President Obama knows nothing about making the economy grow. On his watch, America’s gross domestic product has inched forward at an annual average of 1.2 percent, according to World Bank data. We’re outclassed not only by the usual suspects — Brazil, China and India — but by Mali, Guatemala, Swaziland and Vanuatu. Burundi’s economy grew at an annual average of 4 percent. Peru’s grew 5.5 percent. Burkina Faso jumped 6.2 percent.
Yet none of the leaders of these nations have the spinning skills of Mr. Obama, who has spun spool after spool of red tape. The president presides over 174,545 pages of the Code of Federal Regulations, a tome that would climb 24 feet toward the heavens if printed in one volume. If laid out on the ground (a good place for most of them), the pages would stretch for more than 30 miles.
During Mr. Obama’s first term, more than 78,000 new regulatory restrictions were added, by the calculations of RegData, an online tool developed by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University to track federal regulations.
In less than six years, this administration has presided over a 46 percent rise in the number of rules of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The Federal Reserve nurtured 40 percent more regulations; the Department of Commerce, 19 percent; and the National Indian Gaming Commission, 18 percent.
Only four bureaucracies have fewer ordinances than in 1997. The rest have churned out dictates with wild abandon. The Environmental Protection Agency has 87 percent more restrictions than in 1997. Even the Library of Congress has spun a 90 percent expansion of red tape, presumably to handle important decisions, such as what to do about a senator with overdue books.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation act has a lot to do with the rise of Washington micromanagement. It’s why the Commodity Futures Trading Commission had 5,000 rules in 2010 and two years later, as Dodd-Frank took effect, counted 7,000 rules. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation restrictions grew 56 percent over the same period. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created in 2011 and immediately came up with 3,600 federal restrictions.
In the first four years of his tenure, Mr. Obama hit the finance and insurance industries with a 47 percent increase in red tape. Now credit cards, mortgages and automobile loans are more expensive and harder to get. Education loans, retirement accounts, homeowners insurance and many forms of investments are less consumer-friendly.
The new tool devised by Mercatus Center quantifies what most Americans already know. They feel the federal pinch when they try to do their jobs, apply for a loan or pay their bills. Americans are not safer, better informed or more advanced because government nannies have learned to tell them what they can and can’t do in new and more creative ways. We’re growing poorer in comparison to much of the rest of the world.
A freeze on new regulations, and a rollback of the most useless of existing federal directives, would unchain the private sector, which creates the wealth. It would reinvigorate entrepreneurs who could produce the economic growth of which Americans once boasted. One day, we might match the economic performance of Mongolia.