Federal Regulation

The current Code of Federal Regulations consists of more than 80,000 pages; in 1970, there were 20,000 pages. 


Those who complain about the level of federal regulation today sometimes bemoan a “nanny state” that is said to stifle entrepreneurship, innovation, and prosperity. Often, this position comes from business interests. Businesses large and small say regulations “make it almost impossible to run a business” and so on. Individuals, too, often are heard to complain about “excessive government paperwork” and “red tape.” 


On the other hand, advocates for government involvement argue that strict rules are necessary to “correct abuses by big business” and to guard consumers against various dangers. They cite examples of people being maimed or killed because a safety precaution was not taken by a manufacturing company, or because a warning was not provided. “There needs to be a law,” these advocates maintain.


For sure, both of these sides are partly correct. Some federal regulatory schemes are overly burdensome, and some others are quite appropriate and helpful. The general issue, therefore, is how to tell whether a specific regulation of a particular business activity is excessive or necessary.


To these issues, America should apply three governmental principles: freedom and free enterprise, limited government, and protecting the vulnerable. On this unique controversy, all three apply with approximately equal force. Freedom and free enterprise represent fundamental values that have made America a great place to live and do business; we cannot afford to lose that edge. Protecting the vulnerable is one of the highest callings of government; we cannot let down those who need protection. And limited government demands, in all cases, that the federal government do only what is absolutely necessary—and only if no one else can do it. 


When the need to protect the vulnerable outweighs the harm to freedom on a particular topic, and only federal intervention will fill that need, only then can the necessary government protections be enacted. In such situations, Congress should enact straight-forward laws that will be clear enough for the federal agencies to administer and to enforce. Any agency regulations must flow directly from the purpose and history of the legislation. Presidents should not be allowed to set new rules alone. 


On the other hand, when the burdens on individual and business freedom outweigh any potential assistance to the vulnerable, or when another government body could help more effectively, Congress and the federal administrative agencies should butt out. Similarly, any unnecessary, confusing, or unduly burdensome regulations already on the books should be streamlined or repealed.