Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 27, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

YES, VIRGINIA, REGULATIONS DO HAVE BENEFITS....ABOUT 150 BILLION OF THEM....There are two parts to the following story, and I'm not sure which is the more remarkable. So read the whole thing.

First, the OMB has issued a report officially changing its mind about the impact of environmental regulations over the past decade:

The report, issued this month by the Office of Management and Budget, concludes that the health and social benefits of enforcing tough new clean-air regulations during the past decade were five to seven times greater in economic terms than were the costs of complying with the rules. The value of reductions in hospitalization and emergency room visits, premature deaths and lost workdays resulting from improved air quality were estimated between $120 billion and $193 billion from October 1992 to September 2002.

That's a big turnaround: the last OMB report estimated benefits at about $25 billion. Maybe they ought to take another look at greenhouse gases, eh?

But here's part two:

This year's report provided cost-benefit analysis on 107 major federal rules approved during the past decade dealing with agriculture, education, energy, health and human services, housing, labor, transportation and the environment. In all cases, the benefits far exceeded the costs of implementing the rule.

Did you get that? The regulations fall into eight major categories, and the benefits far exceeded the costs in every single category. This analysis includes every major federal rule enacted since around the beginning of the Clinton administration, and even given the fact that cost-benefit analysis is a very imperfect science, that's a remarkable finding. I can hear the libertarians going nuts already.

Republicans have been screeching loudly ever since Reagan took office that liberals are killing American business by burdening it with an endless stream of inane regulations while blithely ignoring the costs of this regulatory zeal. Well guess what? They were wrong, and the Bush White House has now tacitly admitted it.

Not only have we apparently been pretty careful in enacting regulations, but we have considered the costs of new regulation as well as the benefits. And we're eight for eight.

Pretty good batting average, isn't it?

POSTSCRIPT: The full report is here.

UPDATE: I misread the Post story. The full report doesn't break down all 107 rules, but it does break them down by category. Benefits exceeded costs in every single category, but there are a small number of specific regulations in which costs exceeded benefit. The text of the post has been changed to reflect this.

Kevin Drum 7:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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