Nearly zero new regulations under Trump Administration

Donald Trump: King of Deregulation?


The government has added an average of 13,000 new restrictions annually for the past 20 years. Under Trump, the number of new regulations is near zero.

In a speech on October 11 promoting his tax-reform plan, Donald Trump spoke rosily of America’s economic revival, crediting himself for having cleared the way for growth. “Since January of this year, we have slashed job-killing red tape all across our economy,” the president said. “We have stopped or eliminated more regulations in the last eight months than any president has done during an entire term. It’s not even close.”

It seemed a characteristic bit of Trumpian magniloquence—he’s not only a boffo deregulator, he’s the best ever! Still, it was a remarkable claim. Trump has overseen more deregulation than George W. Bush or Ronald “government is the problem” Reagan?

But, measured by at least one significant standard, Trump’s claim is true. Patrick McLaughlin of the Mercatus Center, a free-market-oriented think tank at George Mason University, applies innovative research techniques to the study of regulation and the economy. He recently analyzed the output of regulatory restrictions promulgated in the last several presidencies, going back to Jimmy Carter. McLaughlin found that there have been periods in some presidencies when regulatory output slowed or declined—in several years of the Reagan presidency, for instance, and in 1996, when “reinventing government” was part of Bill Clinton’s election pitch. But over the full terms of each recent president, including Reagan, regulation increased, according to McLaughlin. So far the increase in regulatory restrictions under Trump has been near to zero.

“So in that sense, the president may be right,” the economist reports. “There may not be a net increase in regulations so far under him, and since there was a net increase in every four-year term for every preceding president, going back to the ’70s, then I think that could be a safe statement.”

It’s a reminder that in this distraction-a-minute presidency, it can be useful to distinguish between the person of the president, who has no discernible ideology, and his presidency, which, so far, has been strikingly conservative.

Constraining the administrative state is a founding principle of modern conservatism, which holds that economic freedom is necessary to political freedom. Trump’s stated objective is prosperity, which is not unrelated, and there is much evidence (besides the intuitive) of a negative correlation between restrictive regulation and economic growth. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Economic Growth found that accumulated regulations between 1949 and 2005 slowed the American economy by an annual average of 2 percent. One of McLaughlin’s studies estimates that the cumulative effect of government regulation caused the economy to be $4 trillion smaller in 2012 than it might have been. “That amount equaled about a quarter of the U.S. economy in 2012, and if it were a nation’s GDP, it would be the fourth largest in the world,” he wrote.

After the 2016 election surprise, congressional Republicans, flush with enthusiasm over the prospect of holding both legislative houses and the presidency, determined to take on the administrative state. Industry leaders and think tanks were invited to help compile a list of particularly egregious regulations. The immediate plan was to employ a powerful but rarely successful legislative tool called the Congressional Review Act. A product of the 1996 Gingrich revolution, the act empowers Congress to override any regulation within 60 days of its promulgation. Each review roughly resembles regular legislation; it can’t be filibustered, but it is subject to presidential veto, which is largely why the act has been successfully deployed only one time, early in the first term of George W. Bush.

President Trump has signed 14 such actions in 2017.

That’s meaningful but mostly symbolic in the face of a regulatory regime that has added an average of 13,000 new restrictions annually for the past 20 years. “It’s like pissing in the ocean,” says McLaughlin.