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Awash in federal regs

| Friday, June 24, 2005

Joe Six-Pack does not care that each of the two volumes of the federal tax code is thicker than a Bible; that the federal regulations code takes up over 20 feet of shelf space (picture a row of 60 Bibles); or that there are so many new regulations that it takes at least two full-time employees to read them, let alone implement.

But he will care if his family needs a new washing machine by 2007.

"Regulations not only cost money but they limit choices and freedoms," said Susan E. Dudley, director of the Regulatory Studies Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Mercatus is a libertarian-leaning think tank that crunches numbers and grinds out free-market solutions to economic problems. Like buying a washing machine.

The Department of Energy has ruled that, starting in 2007, consumers looking for new washing machines will be permitted to purchase only low-flow ones, according to Dudley. Regulations will ensure the machines will have less flow, but be more costly, she said.

"High-end machines will be all you can buy," Dudley said. Low-end ones, about $300 less, are less water-efficient. The cost savings supposedly evaporate after two years.

Regulators have accomplices.

"The washing machine manufacturers asked for the regulation because consumers were not buying high-end machines," Dudley said. The manufacturers hoped the Department of Energy would ban the product consumers like best, she said. "Energy said, 'Sure.'"

Regs by the numbers

The Regulatory Studies Program at Mercatus just released "Upward Trend in Regulation Continues: An Analysis of the U.S. Budget for Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006," a study of the regulators' budget and staffing for 68 federal regulatory agencies.

It's a very dry read -- until you start shopping for a new washing machine after next year.

There was a 46 percent increase in the size of the regulators' budget just since 2000. The regulators' budget for the 68 regulatory agencies is estimated to be $41.4 billion in 2006. That's up from $39.5 billion in 2005, according to the study.

The fiscal year 2006 Budget of the United States Government calls for a 4.8 percent increase in outlays -- way above the rate of inflation -- for writing, administering and enforcing federal regulations. Could there be additional ones for Swiss cheese?

"The Department of Agriculture regulations affect the prices of products we buy," Dudley said. "They cost more than they should." Agriculture regulates the size of the holes of Swiss cheese. "They can't be too small or too big," she said.

Mercatus published a book written by Dudley that should be required reading for every high school student -- and every voter in this republic. "A Day in the Life of a Regulated American Family" is just that.

From the radio alarm at 7 a.m., when the listener can hear the effect of heavy-handed government regulations controlling the airwaves and programming content, to the time the children wearing government-approved sleepwear are tucked into bed, the embedded omnipresent government regulations redefine the nuclear family and cost it over $8,000 each year.

The must-read page-turner is available through Mercatus. She might even autograph your copy if you ask.

Dudley called back later that day to say that upon further review, it is closer to 80 Bibles.

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