A Year of Regulatory Abuse: The 10 Worst New Rules of 2010

Red tape chokes economic freedom

The year 2010 will stand as a watershed in regulation. In all likelihood, government at every level imposed more dictates on more facets of citizens’ lives than ever before, from the timing of stock trades to the proper size of showerheads. Lawmakers and regulators construct complex cost–benefit calculations to justify the rules, but they never account for the erosion of liberty inherent in each and every one. Some regulations are far worse than others, of course, exacting disproportionate costs—fiscal and otherwise. The 10 listed below rank as particularly egregious, and all deserve a swift demise in the year to come.

1. There hardly could be a more inapt title for the Obamacare legislation than the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” Neither protection nor affordable describes the federal government forcing Americans to buy specific types of health care coverage from particular types of insurers. For sheer constitutional insult, the individual mandate ranks among 2010’s worst regulations.

2. The Dodd–Frank financial regulation will ultimately encompass some 243 new formal rule-makings by 11 different federal agencies. Most every sector of finance will be hit by rules that will inhibit product innovation and availability of credit. Creation of the “Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” to regulate all manner of financial products and services—including mortgages, credit cards, even student loans—constitutes regulatory overload of the highest order. For its vaguely defined powers and sweeping mandate, the bureau belongs among the year’s 10 worst regulatory exploits.

3. The regulatory output of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the past 12 months could easily fill all 10 slots on this list, if not more. Several of the agency’s costly and unwarranted regulations in 2010, including new emissions standards for vehicles, stem from a “finding” by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that carbon dioxide constitutes a threat to human health and the environment. For its total disregard of science, the EPA’s carbon emissions strictures rank among the worst regulations of 2010.

4. In defiance of both Congress and a federal appeals court, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued an “order” for regulating how Internet service providers can manage transmissions over their networks. Although regulatory details have been scarce, the FCC has violated the principle of a free and open Internet. For its “jaw-dropping interventionist chutzpah,” as noted by FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, the net neutrality regulation ranks among 2010’s worst.

5. It’s a sure bet that every room in the house has been touched by the heavy hand of government. During the past three decades, Congress has imposed a multitude of energy standards for a host of appliances, including ceiling fans, air conditioners, heat pumps, clothes washers and dryers, stoves and ovens, refrigerators, dishwashers, dehumidifiers, furnaces, light bulbs, and water heaters—to name a few. No longer do consumers exercise the freedom to balance appliance performance against cost. In many cases, the efficiency standards increase the price of appliances by more than consumers will recoup from energy savings. For robbing Americans of choice and raising appliance costs, Washington’s energy decrees deserve a spot among the top 10 worst of 2010.

6. As if controlling the airwaves isn’t work enough, Congress has directed the FCC to prepare rules requiring schools that receive federal funding for Internet equipment and service to educate students on “cyber-bullying prevention.” For attempting to micromanage the nation’s manners, the bullying rules make the 2010 list of worst regulations.

7. Employing a particularly annoying acronym, Congress adopted volume limits on television commercials with passage of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act. For nannyism run amok, the volume restrictions rank among the worst regulations of 2010.

8. The incidence rate of food-borne illness has been declining for a decade and is dramatically lower than previously estimated. Yet Congress vastly expanded the powers of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate every aspect of food production, from farm to table. Spanning some150 pages, the act authorizes the FDA to dictate how farmers grow fruits and vegetables, including rules governing soil, water, hygiene, packing, temperatures, and even what animals may roam which fields and when. For imposing costs that bear no relation to benefit, the new food regulations earn a spot among 2010’s worst.

9. Municipalities and states across the country could face tens of millions of dollars in unanticipated costs to bring traffic signs into compliance with the new edition of the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. According to the new regulations, “The lettering for names of streets and highways on Street Name signs shall be composed of a combination of lower-case letters with initial upper-case letters.” Moreover, the upper-case letters must be at least six inches in height, while lower-case letters must be 4.5 inches tall. Streets with speed limits of 40 mph and over need sizes of eight inches and six inches for upper- and lower-case letters, respectively. Signs for local roads with speed limits under 25 mph only need letters half as tall as the high-speed roads. For indiscriminate waste of tax dollars, the new signage requirements make the list.

10. We reserve spot number 10 for all the localities that have banned or otherwise restricted fast-food restaurants. Not only have these ordinances driven away jobs and consumer choice, but they have made McDonald’s and the like easy targets for the more litigious among us. For example, Monet Parham, an employee of the California Department of Public Health, has lent her name—and that of her daughter Maya, age 6—to a preposterous class-action lawsuit alleging that McDonald’s is “unfair” to parents. The lure of a Happy Meal toy, Parham claims, so provokes Maya’s “pester power” that familial conflict ensues. For hastening the erosion of personal responsibility, these restrictions on legitimate and beneficial economic activity round out the list of 2010’s worst regulations.

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