President Donald Trump’s use of executive orders to this point has been haphazard, unvetted and, with regard to his Muslim ban, deplorable. But his latest effort, aimed at reducing federal regulation, is just plain dumb.
GOAL OF THE ORDER
Per the text and Trump’s own pronouncement on Monday, the goal is to require that any new regulation implemented by the government be offset by the elimination of two other regulations. “So if there’s a new regulation, they have to knock out two,” Trump said.
WHY? BECAUSE IT SOUNDS NICE
It’s hard to overstate just how silly and subjective this notion is. It’s sloganeering, not public policy – but we’d all pay for it if such an absurd vision of regulatory reform actually became reality.
It isn’t hard to see how Trump’s catchphrase would play out in the real world, for the worse. Say an industrial cleaner or pesticide turns out to be harmful to humans in ways that weren’t understood before. Should regulators really have to go digging for two unrelated regulations to eliminate before they can do something about it?
Or say a new financial product cooked up by lenders is thriving on the internet. Should regulators really have to let financial institutions go unshackled in two unrelated ways before stepping in?
OF COURSE NOT
No, Government should regulate the things that need to be regulated in order to protect the health of the population and prevent people from being duped – full stop.
To be fair to Trump, though, this sort of idea has been floating around Republican circles for a long time. The GOP just loves arbitrary limits on regulations, as if there’s a price point at which we no longer care about what companies can do to the American public.
For instance, for years Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail have been spreading the idea of a “regulatory cap”: a limit on the amount that regulations can “cost” in any given year.
NOTION IS RIDICULOUS
It has been explained before why this notion is a ridiculous one: Adhering to a random cap means either leaving necessary regulations unimplemented or throwing out other rules for no good reason. And that leaves aside the problems inherent with figuring out the “cost” of any one regulation. Sure, businesses may complain about the dollars they spend complying with a rule, but preventing people from getting cancer due to exposure to a toxic material is worth quite a bit more, I’d wager, even if it doesn’t immediately show up on a balance sheet somewhere.
Trump – and the wider GOP, for that matter – also seem to suffer under the idea that deregulation has no cost. To disprove that, I’d refer them to: 2008, the financial crisis of.
In the buildup to that mess – which was a bipartisan effort, to be sure – regulations on new, dangerous financial products were either prevented from coming into being or utterly ignored. The result was trillions of dollars of wealth evaporating.
FACET OF THE TRUMP CON
But this order is just another facet of the Trump con: playing the populist while doing things that make corporate America and Wall Street clap with glee. Case in point, as Trump signed the silly regulation order, he told reporters, “We’re going to be doing a big number on Dodd-Frank.” Yes, that would be the law signed by former President Barack Obama, which put in place new restrictions on the banks that had caused the largest financial disaster since the Great Depression. Letting banks remake the same mistakes that nearly sank the global economy is apparently how Trump plans to make America great again.
The good news is that there may be more theatre to Trump’s order than actual effect, as has been the case with some of his previous efforts. If an agency already has legal authority to make a new rule, it’s unclear if the president can just force it to do something else before implementation. As Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists told the Washington Post, “Congress has not called upon EPA to choose between clean air and clean water, and the president cannot do this by executive fiat.”