President Resolves to Address Regulatory Balance

In a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal featured on on January 18, President Barack Obama announced he would sign an executive order stipulating that a reasonable balance between freedom of commerce and regulatory safeguards is a core operating principle of the U.S. government. 

The order requires those federal agencies tasked with developing and implementing regulatory measures designed to protect public safety/health―as well as the environment―to do so in a way that promotes economic growth at the same time.  Furthermore, the order is aimed at removing from the books any outdated regulations that limit job creation and ultimately, make the U.S. less competitive on the global stage. 

Citing a number of examples throughout U.S. history where “common sense rules “ have actually strengthened the nation “without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy,” the President goes on to acknowledge that some rules have placed unreasonable burdens on business.  He further asserts that the goal of his administration over the past two years has been to “strike the right balance,” especially given the recent financial crisis and its continuing after effects.

Years of “tinkering” with regulations by legislators from all parties and various administrations, often under the influence of special interests, has resulted in what the President calls a complex and oftentimes redundant “patchwork of overlapping rules.”  He assures that while obvious public safety initiatives―such as new safety rules for baby formula and preventing hospital infections―will not be stymied, his administration’s mission will be to “root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost or that are just plain dumb.”

The President envisions a new regulatory system for the 21st century―one that seeks to identify and implement a whole host of less costly and intrusive approaches to achieve the same, if not better results, and open up new opportunities.  “This means writing rules with more input from experts, businesses and ordinary citizens,” he says.  “It means using disclosure as a tool to inform consumers of their choices, rather than restricting those choices.  And it means making sure government does more of its work online, just like companies are doing.”

Ultimately, the President believes that a reasonable balance between necessary regulatory action and the public interest, including businesses of all kinds, is possible.  His confidence is reflected in the piece’s final assertion that the U.S. can “make our economy stronger and more competitive, while meeting our fundamental responsibilities to one another.”  But first, he infers, we would do well to take a lesson from our history:  “Our economy is not a zero-sum game,” President Obama says.  “Regulations do have costs; often, as a country, we have to make tough decisions about whether those costs are necessary.”

One thing is for certain:  That decision-making process―and the inevitable debates that will surround it―will be nothing if not interesting.