As 2014 comes to a close, it is enveloped in red tape. From the breakfast table to the night light, government regulators invaded nearly every moment of our lives. Here’s our take on the 10 worst examples of the past year:
10. Federal Censorship Commission. The FCC began considering a petition to revoke the broadcast license of a Washington, D.C., radio station for using the name of the city’s football team, the Redskins. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler declared the moniker “offensive” and urged owner Dan Snyder to change it “voluntarily.” The agency has yet to rule on the petition.
9. April Fool’s Rule. The Volcker Rule prohibits banks from trading securities on their own accounts. The 1,000-page regulation crafted by five federal agencies over three years supposedly remedies one of the causes of the 2008 financial crisis. But there is no evidence to support that claim. That the rule took effect on April Fool’s Day is thus entirely appropriate.
8. The Environmental Protection Agency’s power grab. In its quest to replace cheap and reliable fossil fuels with costly and unreliable “renewables,” the EPA in June unveiled new restrictions on so-called greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. These hugely expensive regulations are all the more maddening for accomplishing virtually nothing to affect the climate or protect human health.
7. Uber regulation. The popular ride-sharing service Uber is changing the way Americans get around town. Its fleet of independent drivers offers an efficient alternative to traditional taxis. Yet Uber faces significant hurdles as local regulators try to stop its expansion, claiming that the service is “unfair” to the excessively regulated cab drivers. So far, though, Uber and its loyal customers have fought off those opposing competition, but many hurdles remain.
6. Choking Justice. Woe to any business disfavored by the Department of Justice. Under “Operation Chokepoint,” federal regulators have been leaning hard on banks to end ties with enterprises that the government doesn’t like, including payday lenders, firearms dealers and credit repair services. These businesses are perfectly legal, but the DOJ’s efforts to close them down are not.
5. Halting home financing. New regulations on mortgage financing took effect in January, compliments of Dodd-Frank. Virtually every aspect of financing a home – including mortgage options, eligibility standards, and even the structure and schedule of payments – is now governed by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Alas, critics’ predictions about the restrictions are proving correct: Mortgage lending is running at its lowest level in 13 years, and 2014 will be the worst year for mortgage volume since 2000.
4. Force feeding calorie counts. Knowing the number of calories in various food products does not change our menu choices, several studies have shown. But in keeping with government’s insatiable appetite for control, the Food and Drug Administration in November finalized rules requiring calorie counts to be posted on restaurant menus, supermarket deli cases, vending machines and even in movie theater concessions. Compliance will require tens of millions of hours each year, which is sure to thin consumers’ wallets.
3. Forgetting free speech. In one of the worst public policy decisions in European history (and that’s saying a lot), the European Union ruled in May that links to embarrassing information that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” must be scrubbed from the Internet. Thus, Google must take down that 1975 picture of you dancing in a leisure suit as well as reports on child pornography arrests that regulators deem “irrelevant.” This “right to be forgotten” is a massive violation of free expression in Europe. And it could get worse: The EU is considering applying this gag order worldwide.
2. Polluting the economy. Ozone levels have dropped significantly during the past three decades, reflecting the overall improvement in air quality. Nonetheless, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed more stringent ozone standards that would cost tens of billions of dollars, making it perhaps the most costly regulation ever imposed. (President Obama pulled a 2011 version for threatening the economy – just as the election neared.)
1. Regulating the Internet. The FCC proposed new rules to require Internet carriers to deliver all online content in a “neutral” fashion. Defining such neutrality is, of course, easier said than done, and doing so without harm to the Internet would be virtually impossible. President Obama recently upped the ante by urging regulators to impose 1930s-style public utility rules on the net. But the Internet is too important, and innovative, to be treated like the local water company.