March 26, 2013

Why Old Regulations Never Seem to Die

Patrick McLaughlin

Senior Research Fellow
Summary

Regulatory reform efforts often rely on agencies to provide information about which regulations are inefficient, duplicative, or outdated. While the agencies may indeed have a good idea of which regulations need to go, they have little incentive to actually see them repealed—that would mean smaller budgets, fewer employees, and diminished power.

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Several states have recently started pursuing much-needed regulatory reforms, as the rise of the Office of the Repealer in Kansas demonstrates. Despite the office's dramatic name, it is quite reasonable to aspire to eliminate and prevent the creation of regulations that are economically inefficient.

Unfortunately, it's not always easy for a reformer to tell which regulations to cut away. Regulatory reform efforts often rely on agencies to provide information about which regulations are inefficient, duplicative, or outdated. While the agencies may indeed have a good idea of which regulations need to go, they have little incentive to actually see them repealed—that would mean smaller budgets, fewer employees, and diminished power.

Here's a corollary experiment to try: ask your health care provider which of his or her services are inefficient, duplicative, or outdated so that you can eliminate them. Don't expect a long list. Unless agency incentives are changed, regulatory reform efforts that rely on agency-provided information are almost certainly bound to be merely cosmetic. 

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