Andrew Clark: A country mired in regulation

President Barack Obama has projected the image that he is a pragmatist dedicated to dissolving burdensome and unnecessary regulations. But the evidence says otherwise – and students like us will bear the burden of these costly policy changes.

Just take a look at his presidential track record.

In the first two years of his administration, the executive branch developed 43 new “economically significant” rules – political speak for a price tag that exceeds $100 million – adding a net burden of $26.5 billion on the economy.

The health care reform bill is responsible for five of these weighty regulations. Under the new law, we are allowed to remain on our parents’ plan until we are 26 years old. However, as soon as the clock strikes midnight on our 26th birthdays, we will be required by law to purchase insurance. And the requirement to sign up for a health care plan isn’t enough. The government has now mandated which costly services private insurance must cover, and more mandates are on the way.

Financial overhaul legislation created another 15 expensive regulations. In fact, this sweeping legislation perhaps impacts us students most directly. Part of that law resulted in the formation of the Consumer Protection Bureau, a federal agency that has been given broad, vague powers to write and enforce new rules on anything it sees fit – everything from student loans to mortgages and debit cards. As we begin applying for loans on big investments like cars or apartments, and smaller ones like a new credit card, the government will have its messy hands involved from start to finish. This will make some financial services difficult, if not impossible, for us to access.

These regulations have been sold to us as a necessary medicine after the deregulation of the George W. Bush years. But the numbers don’t add up for that myth to hold true. Obama’s predecessor actually increased the number of federal regulations by 21 percent, to 78,090, and increased total spending on regulatory enforcement by 61 percent, making the Bush administration the most friendly to regulation since Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. The recent Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission released a report on what caused the financial crisis. It actually blamed a portion of it on regulators, who already had all the tools they needed to stop the coming disaster, but simply ignored the signs. Clearly, a lack of regulation has not been the problem.

Yet Obama’s answer to our nation’s problems has been just that, promoting further regulation – and not just in the financial or insurance industries. The Federal Communications Commission unilaterally launched net-neutrality rules on the Internet, an issue that our generation clearly has a stake in. The Department of Energy set new efficiency standards for pool and water heaters. The Food and Drug Administration set 150-pages’ worth of new regulations and rules. More regulations are expected to pour out of Washington as government agencies fully realize their new regulatory powers under the Obama legislation.

Some regulation is, of course, necessary and useful. The spurt of basic environmental regulations in the 1970s drastically improved our air and water quality, and food regulations in the last century have made Americans healthier and safer.

Yet the current fever pitch of regulation – nearly 150,000 pages of regulatory code – has far surpassed the goal of advancing society, instead strangling both economic growth and individual liberty.

Obama is stuck in a mindset that regulation is a panacea for our ills. But our experience with government clearly suggests that some regulations can simply cause more problems. Higher debit card fees, more expensive insurance, government control of the Internet? As students, these changes will impact us consistently and harshly, and it is up to us to let our leaders know: More regulation is not always the answer.

Andrew Clark, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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