The measure and mismeasure of rules

Susan Dudley

Measuring the growth of America’s regulatory burden over the past half century has been a notoriously difficult task, so it is not surprising that measuring a reduction in regulatory burdens is at least as challenging. Those of us who study regulation are often reduced to counting pages, numbers of regulations, regulatory restrictions or on-budget costs of regulating.

Those who market regulatory policy – whichever direction it is going – to the general public can’t afford to be so dull.

President Obama, for example, describing EPA’s plan to start regulating the fuel economy of 18-wheelers, said that it would magically benefit consumers, trucking companies, and the environment. “So it’s not just a win-win, it’s a win-win-win. You’ve got three wins!”

The Federal Trade Commission has a word for this kind of salesmanship: Puffery. They warn consumers to be wary of it, but it is not illegal.

President Trump is certainly no stranger to puffery, and it was on full display last month when he took to the South Lawn of the White House to tout his regulatory reform efforts. Behind him loomed 2 large pickup trucks, a blue one (facing left) loaded down with large weights, and a red one (facing right, in case the color symbolism was too subtle) over which a large crane labeled “Trump Administration” removed the weights.

He claimed that “no other administration has done anywhere near” as much as his to remove regulatory burdens. He offered as evidence 1) his “revolutionary” mandate to remove two regulations for every new one introduced, 2) cost savings to American families, and 3) removal of regulation on the books. The public should be alert to the puffery in these claims, but at the same time recognize that they do hold some truth.

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Susan Dudley

Director, GW Regulatory Studies Center & Distinguished Professor of Practice

Trachtenberg School of Public Policy & Public Administration, George Washington University