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Count this among the dubious milestones of government achievement: Through the end of 2012, the Federal Register, the ever-growing compendium of the federal government’s regulations, now includes over one million instances of words — such as “shall,” “must,” and “required” — whose only reason for being is to restrict the economic activities in which Americans might otherwise be free to engage.
The Mercatus Center’s Patrick McLaughlin and Robert Williams explain why the increasing frequency in which these words appear in the Federal Register is a bad thing:
In its most basic definition, a regulation is a law that “seeks to change behavior in order to produce desired outcomes,” and it does this by requiring or forbidding certain actions. Figure 1 shows the growth of federal regulations from 1997 to 2012, as measured by counting the number of restricting words, such as “shall,” “must,” or “required,” that are printed in the Code of Federal Regulations each year. (For information on the methodology behind this chart, see our paper.) The total number of restrictions in federal regulations has grown from about 835,000 in 1997 to over 1 million by 2010. Over time, these accumulated restrictions can either directly foreclose paths to innovation or entrepreneurship or add up to the point where their cumulative cost makes certain actions prohibitively expensive.
For more insight, McLaughlin’s latest paper on the topic, written with Omar Al-Ubaydli, is available online.