TCS Daily


Happy Birthday Federal Register!

By Alastair J. Walling - March 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Few would deny that the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 inaugurated the age of big government. Almost over night, Washington, DC went from a quasi-sleepy, southern town built on a swamp to a true seat of federal power — complete with monumental New Deal buildings and their creepy statuary. It was from these buildings that armies of newly recruited bureaucrats would try desperately — and many would say, fail — to regulate the nation out of the Great Depression.

Although the birth of the regulatory state created its own set of problems, none was more glaring than the simple fact that no one bothered to tell the American people about it. Newly created or empowered government agencies began writing rules and regulations left and right, only to keep them secret until finding some hapless citizen in violation of rules that had only ever been published in the dark recesses of Washington filing cabinets.

After numerous embarrassments in the press and in the courtroom, the Federal government finally got the bright idea of writing down and publishing all of the rules it made. Seventy years ago this week, in March of 1936, with President's Roosevelt's grudging approval, the government issued the first pages of the Federal Register, which dutifully began informing the American people of the many new and interesting ways in which their government would now be affecting their lives.

Starting with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in 1946, the Federal Register would undertake a new and even more important role. Prior to finalizing a new regulation, Federal agencies would publish a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) and accept comment from the public. Although sometimes cynically viewed as warm and fuzzy PR implements, surprisingly comments can, have and do make a difference. Informed citizens brought previously unconsidered information and counterarguments to the attention of Federal agencies. The comments have occasionally created changes in policy, and at the very least, brought some transparency into the rather dictatorial world of bureaucratic rulemaking.

While the Federal Register is useful and has made possible the livelihoods of thousands of consumer advocates, lobbyists and regulatory lawyers, it has also come to symbolize the unfettered growth of its government publisher. In 1936 the Federal Register ran a lengthy but readable 2,355 pages. The 2005 version churned out 77,752 pages of mind-numbing regulatory detail, which is physically too much for any one person to be expected to read in a year. Assuming it takes four minutes to read a page (and trust me it takes more than four minutes to read a page of literature as compelling as the Federal Register), the simple act of reading every page produced in one year would require two and a half full time employees reading eight hours a day. The sad truth is that the government now writes rules faster than any lone American can read them.

The Federal Register is not just the publication of proposed and final rules and regulations; it has become the proverbial canary in freedom's coalmine. Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman once used the number of its pages as a measure of how much individual liberty diminished each year. Although this measurement was much criticized, it was enough for the Reagan administration to quietly demand that agencies keep their entries pithy.

Although tedious, boring, and notoriously difficult to read, for the last 70 years the Federal Register has allowed ordinary Americans to at least try and understand what their government was doing to them. Its astounding growth and staggering yearly output serve as reminders of just how regulated we have become and what new restrictions we have to look forward to. Indeed, compliance with government regulations cost this country $1.1 trillion last year — roughly $3,660 for every single American. But the messenger is not to blame for these dismal numbers, and we should be thankful that the Federal Register has a birthday to celebrate. Imagine what the trials and costs of regulation would be if the government didn't have to tell us what it was up to.

Alastair Walling is a legal fellow in the Regulatory Studies Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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5 Comments

Just like England Circa 1700
"...reminders of just how regulated we have become..."

And just how far and quickly the governement reverted to it pre-Revolutionary state -- no different than Gerorgian England and the arbitrary and contradictory laws and regulations that suffocated the Colonies to the point of forcing a war. How quainte.

Take 2 aspirin & call the IRS in the morning
Federal aid programs expand at record rate
USA Today, March 13, 2006

...A USA Today analysis of 25 major government programs found that enrollment increased an average of 17% in the programs from 2000 to 2005. The nation's population grew 5% during that time. It was THE LARGEST FIVE-YEAR EXPANSION OF THE FEDERAL SAFETY NET SINCE THE GREAT SOCIETY created programs such as Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s.

Spending on these social programs was $1.3 trillion in 2005, UP AN INFLATION-ADJUSTED 22% SINCE 2000 and accounting for MORE THAN HALF OF FEDERAL SPENDING. Enrollment growth was responsible for three-fourths of the spending increase, according to USA Today's analysis of federal enrollment and spending data. Higher benefits accounted for the rest.

The biggest expansion: Medicaid, the health care program for the poor. It added 15 million beneficiaries over five years to become the nation's largest entitlement program.

Not a factor: Social Security and Medicare...

http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-03-13-federal-entitlements_x.htm

We are worse off than under George
"...no different than Gerorgian England and the arbitrary and contradictory laws and regulations that suffocated the Colonies to the point of forcing a war..."

I disagree. Under the leviathan US state we are regulated and taxed to a level that would horrify the Americans who revolted against George, whose imposts were less than 3% in total. Today, the average taxpayer works until May just to pay his or her taxes. Add in the disgusting burden of regulation that shows up in costs passed along to all consumers and suffocation is a gross understatement.
Sad thing is that the average American has been lulled into a state of economic unconsciousness by the propaganda---esentially hollow promises that they can have something for nothing.

iron clad rule.....
There is an ironclad fact of life: because people react to incentives, we will always get more of whatever is subsidized by the unaccountable spendthrifts wasting other people's money.

Laziness, sloth, homelessness or whatever, pay people for it and they will oblige by engaging in more of the same behavior.

The big spenders(also known as vote wh_res) and dim-witted bureacrats treat humans with less respect than they do the animals in our national parks. In the parks, we are admonished not to feed (subsidize) the bears and other wild animals becasue they will become dependent on humans and lose their drive to forage for themselves. Common sense, we can all agree.

Why then, do these same people hold people in such low regard, contempt and disdain even, that they will trample over their political opponents to be first to foster dependency in exchange for votes? At the same time they confiscate more and more of the income and property of those that are not dependent on the "largesse" of the state. The independent, of course, are held in even greater contempt for their ability to "forage" without aid.

great analogy
The big spenders(also known as vote wh_res) and dim-witted bureacrats treat humans with less respect than they do the animals in our national parks. In the parks, we are admonished not to feed (subsidize) the bears and other wild animals becasue they will become dependent on humans and lose their drive to forage for themselves. Common sense, we can all agree.


That is really great analogy. I think I'll play "IRS" and acquire your hard work for my own use.

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