UPDATE 02/05/17: The website of the Office of the Federal Register has eliminate or very cleverly hidden the source of statistics summarized in the graph below. Alternative sources, as of this date, are here and here.
The Office of the Federal Register, undoubtedly proud of its role in the imposition of rules on Americans, publishes a statistical summary of its handiwork, from which I derived the following graph:
Source: Go to OFR page headed Tutorials, History, and Statistics and under Statistics click on XLS. Number of pages of rules for 1936-1975 estimated from the relationship between the number of pages of rules and the total number of pages in the Federal Register for 1976-2010.
Not all of the rules adopted since 1936 are still in effect, of course, but the graph gives a good indication of the growth and weight of the regulatory burden that hampers Americans and their enterprises. Do not take solace in the slower growth of rule-making pages since 1976; the page count continues to rise. Any number greater than zero represents the foreclosure of consumers’ and producers’ options — the further diminution of liberty, in other words.
How bad is it, economically? A report issued under the aegis of the U.S. Small Business Administration (yes, an arm of the central government) concludes that
the annual total cost of all federal regulations in 2008 was $1.752 trillion. Of this amount, the annual direct burden on business is $970 billion. Economic regulations represent the most costly category, with a total cost of $1.236 trillion, and with $618 billion falling initially on business. Environmental regulations represent the second most costly category in terms of total cost ($281 billion), and the cost apportioned to business is $183 billion. Compliance with the federal tax code is the third most costly category ($160 billion), and the cost of occupational safety and health, and homeland security regulations ranks last ($75 billion). (Nicole V. Crain and W. Mark Crain, Lafayette College, “The Impact of Regulatory Costs on Small Firms,” for SBA Office of Advocacy, September 2010, p. 48; cited and summarized on SBA’s website, here)
In other words governmental impositions in 2008 — a regulatory burden of $1.75 trillion and spending of $5.02 trillion — accounted for 47 percent of that year’s GDP ($14.29 trillion, in current dollars). As I have shown in other posts (e.g., here and here) the cumulative effect of governmental impositions is far greater than that.
Related reading: Henry I. Miller, “Red Tape and Pink Slips: Obama’s Imaginary Regulatory Reform,” The American, February 2, 2012
The Price of Government
The Price of Government Redux
Ricardian Equivalence Reconsidered
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Rahn Curve at Work
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
Undermining the Free Society
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
Build It and They Will Pay
Government vs. Community
The Stagnation Thesis
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
“Tax Expenditures” Are Not Expenditures
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
The Great Recession Is Not Over
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
The Real Multiplier
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Economic Growth Since World War II
The Commandeered Economy
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
The Real Multiplier (II)