Liberals love to argue that regulations are the ally of the common man and woman. The zeal with which liberals make this case is often astonishing. Listening to Hillary Clinton and company, you might believe that without more regulations, America risks becoming a land of Beijing-like environmental-atrophy and impoverished citizens. Such claims are absurd. Yes, during the early industrial period of American history, the need for worker-protection regulations was clear. During that period — as in the early industrialization periods of all nations — human capital needed protection from kleptocratic industries. But that was then. In 2015, the Left’s regulatory zeal is a growing enemy of the American worker.
Consider five key areas of concern.
First, the sharing economy. Personified by ride-sharing firms such as Uber and Lyft, the sharing economy has shaken up a stagnating private-transportation economy. In doing so, it has offered a cheaper service to consumers, and allowed tens of thousands of Americans to earn money in pursuit of their individual aspirations. Yet the sharing economy is under increasing threat from liberals. They don’t like that human capital is breaking free from the strictures of bureaucracy and political patronage. And so we’re seeing the Left’s regulation fetishism put into action to protect industries from competition and prevent Americans from making use of their talents. It’s a disgrace.
Second, the banking and financial industry. In 2016, expect Hillary Clinton to ramp up her calls for tougher financial regulations. But what Clinton won’t tell you is that existing financial regulations — under massive laws like Dodd-Frank — have hurt those at the bottom of the economic ladder. By reducing the private incentive to invest in more risky ventures, these regulations hurt individuals with the least assets. They also promote economic inefficiency by forcing business owners to spend ballooning sums on regulatory compliance. This flushes opportunity down the drain and weakens investment and hiring.
Third, permitting and business issues. The contrast between construction permitting regulations in liberal California and conservative Texas is remarkable. Where Texas welcomes business investment and facilitates that investment, California lays a minefield of costly rules and regulations. Again, this liberal fetish for regulations hurts people — especially the unemployed — who most benefit from new job opportunities that arrive with newly permitted businesses. But don’t take my word for it, just look at the statistics for October 2015: the unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in California, and 4.4 percent in Texas.
In 2015, the Left’s regulatory zeal is a growing enemy of the American worker
Fourth, the minimum wage. This is where liberals are most disingenuous in their regulatory fetish. Although liberals assert raising the minimum wage offers higher earnings to low-income workers without serious economic costs, the opposite is true. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that raising the minimum wage forces cost-transfers onto consumers while pricing out the least-skilled from the economy. This “price out” issue is especially problematic for younger entrants into the workplace, who need the on-the-job opportunities to build their skills and thus gain higher-paid employment. This fact infuriates liberals, but it is the hard truth.
Fifth, who regulates the regulators? As the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) explains this week in a new report, liberalism’s regulation fetish is increasingly divorced from democratic control. Today, liberals are so convinced of the moral beneficence of regulations that they’re essentially allowing federal agencies to write new laws without congressional approval! As the CEI notes: “Congress’ over-delegation of power is at the root of Washington’s out-of-control growth. It is not enough for [the Office of Management and Budget] to try to do its ‘darndest’ on regulatory oversight and review. Congressional accountability is indispensable in offsetting the pro-regulatory bias that prevails across the entire federal bureaucracy, including its independent agencies.” And the Left says that conservatives are the enemies of the popular will!
Of course, none of this is to say that all regulations are bad — some regulations are obviously necessary. But the notion that regulations are inherently virtuous is both intellectually defective and morally simplistic. In 2015, too many Americans are suffering from liberalism’s regulatory delusion.
Tom Rogan is a contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.