The Problem With Regulations

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 12:11 PM EST

Ezra Klein on regulations:

Michael Mandel is waging a one-man war against the government's tendency to pile on regulations during economic downturns. I worry his approach is a little indiscriminate: Genetically modified crops can still contaminate non-genetically-modified crops even if the economy is weak. So there either need to be standards for how to handle that problem or GMO producers will be laden with legal threats and uncertainty over regulations they they know will come eventually, but whose content they can't yet predict. That's a much worse position for a young industry.

I'd put this a little differently. To a fair approximation, regulations on corporate behavior can only be enacted when a Democrat is president, so if you want any new regulations at all, they can only occur when a Democrat happens to be in office. Sometimes that's during an economic downturn, but them's the breaks. Besides, rulemaking is a very, very long process, so any rules started up, say, in Barack Obama's first year, are only likely to win final approval around 2014 or so. If then. So trying to time these things to the economic cycle is a mug's game anyway.

It would be nice if both parties supported moderate and effective levels of business regulation, and could therefore agree to things like temporary halts during recessions or neutral reviews of possibly outdated rules. But they don't. The Republican Party these days is basically a ward of its corporate base, and this makes them dedicated to mindlessly declaring all regulations "job killers" and getting rid of everything they can, regardless of whether they're effective or not. That makes it pretty hard to come up with some kind of efficient, bipartisan approach to streamlining the regulatory state.

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