Arbitrary Regulatory Waivers Undermine Rule of Law

(p. A11) Who cares about the swelling power of bureaucratic discretion in Washington over big business, since it doesn’t threaten your personal freedom and prosperity. Or does it? That question lurked in the background of a Hoover Institution discussion on June 25, hosted by economist and podcaster extraordinaire Russ Roberts. The occasion was the 800th anniversary of Britain’s Magna Carta, a landmark in the struggle for a rule of law.
One of the participants, Hoover economist John Cochrane, spoke of fears that America is drifting toward a “corporatist system” with diminished political freedom. Are rules knowable in advance so businesses can avoid becoming targets of enforcement actions? Is there meaningful appeal? Are permissions received in a timely fashion or can bureaucrats arbitrarily decide your case simply by sitting on it?
The answer to these questions increasingly is “no.” Whatever the merits of 1,231 individual waivers issued under ObamaCare, a law implemented largely through waivers and exemptions is not law-like. In such a system, where even hairdressers and tour guides are subjected to arbitrary licensing requirements, all the advantages accrue to established, politically-connected businesses.
Another participant, Lee Ohanian, a UCLA economist affiliated with Hoover, drew the connection between the regulatory state and today’s depressed growth in labor productivity. From a long-term average of 2.5% a year, the rate has dropped to 0.7% in the current recovery. Labor productivity is what allows rising incomes. A related factor is a decline in business start-ups. New businesses are the ones that bring new techniques to bear and create new jobs. Big, established companies, in contrast, tend to be net job-shrinkers over time.

For the full commentary, see:
HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. “BUSINESS WORLD; The New Slow-Growth Normal and Where It Leads; On the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, an unhinged regulatory state is our doomsday machine.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 1, 2015): A11.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 31, 2015.)

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