In our opinion: The hidden costs

Published: Saturday, June 15 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Elected officials come and go, but the bureaucracy is forever. No workable system exists to perform a cost/benefit analysis on regulations.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

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The federal government is projected to spend $3.8 trillion in this fiscal year. Granted, that's a staggering sum, but it's also a transparent one. Anyone can quickly discover how the money is collected and where it is spent, as well as the cost applied to each individual taxpayer for his or her share of the financial burden.

But what about the hidden costs that accompany government regulation?

A group called the Competitive Enterprise Institute has published an annual report titled, "Ten Thousand Commandments" for the past two decades. The aim of the report is to let the American people know just how much government red tape is costing them. In 2012 alone, the government enacted 3,708 new regulations, and since 1993 when "Ten Thousand Commandments" was first published, it has inflicted 81,883 distinct regulatory requirements on the American economy.

All of that regulation comes with colossal price tag of about $1.8 trillion every year.

That's bigger than the entire economy of Canada. And for the average American household, that's an annual hit of $14,678, more than most families pay for food, transportation or health care. What's more, few, if any, recognize the government's regulatory drain on their household budget, because Washington has created no mechanism for transparency in measuring a regulation's impact.

That needs to change.

Of course, change is easier said than done. Politicians currently have very little incentive to detail the expenses associated with their pet projects, and the career civil servants who implement legislation by means of arbitrary regulations have no accountability to the public they are supposed to serve. Elected officials come and go, but the bureaucracy is forever. No workable system exists to perform a cost/benefit analysis on regulations. Certainly none of the current stakeholders in the process has any reason to create one and every reason to thwart even the most rudimentary steps toward increased transparency.

It doesn't have to be that way. If the Office of Management and Budget were to issue its own version of "Ten Thousand Commandments" and call attention to regulatory outlays, it would go a long way toward engaging the citizenry in confronting these costs.

This wouldn't have to be a negative experience, as many of these regulations may well be worth what the public is paying for them. But it's essential that all of us get a chance to see the bill before we're compelled to pay it.

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