Last week, the Competitive Enterprise Institute released the latest edition of Ten Thousand Commandments , Clyde Wayne Crews Jr.'s overview of federal regulations.
There are some striking figures there. By the government's own estimate, the total annual cost of regulations exceeds the total combined personal and corporate federal income tax, and adds up to half what the federal government spends. Crews argues that some of this expenditure substitutes for federal spending: If Congress wants a certain service provided, it can have the government do it, or avoid having the expenditure on its budget by forcing private entities to do it.
But more striking is simply seeing in one place a list -- multiple lists, actually -- of regulations the government is working on or has recently finished working on. Some of these, of course, may actually be worthwhile and within the proper scope of government activity: the Department of Justice's project on "National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape" stands out for its title. But the report mentions twelve distinct energy conservation or efficiency standards -- for
- High-Intensity Discharge Lamps
- Wine Chillers and Miscellaneous Refrigeration Products
- Metal Halide Lamp Fixtures
- Microwave Ovens
- Commercial Refrigeration Equipment
- Residential Clothes Washers
- Clothes Dryers and Room Air Conditioners
- Residential Refrigerators, Refrigerator-Freezers, and Freezers
- Residential Furnace, Central Air Conditioners, and Heat Pumps
- General Service Fluorescent Lamps and Incandescent Reflector Lamps
-- and that's quite a list.
One thing the report does not tell us is how many of the regulations, either existing or in the works, involve criminal penalties. Theoretically, of course, the creation of new federal criminal laws, like the creation of all other federal laws, is Congress's job, but in practice crimes are sometimes defined by regulation, or by regulation and other non-Congressional sources of law. Thus, for example, "securities fraud" has come to include insider trading and certain ways of accounting for options , and Raj Rajaratnam and Greg Reyes have gone to prison because of regulations.