Ignoring Costs and Benefits
"Even when agencies find that the cost of a given regulation does exceed the benefit, political considerations often keep the rules on the books. In 2007, Congress passed a law, named in honor of a 2-year-old child crushed as his father backed down the driveway, that effectively required the installation of rear-view video cameras in cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, charged with writing the new rules, found that the technology would save lives but — assuming a human life was worth about $6.1 million, a figure used by the agency for its calculations — that the cost would exceed the benefits by more than $1 billion. Nonetheless, the agency proposed the requirement, noting that it was responding to the will of Congress and that 'there is a special solicitude for protection of children.' Under the rule, automakers will be required to start installing cameras by 2014." [NYT]
"Long ago, cost-benefit analysis was a rallying cry for conservatives. It was brought to government by none other than Ronald Reagan, in Executive Order 12291 of 1981...Outraged liberals charged that cost-benefit analysis was a pretext to stifle regulation, and that it was arbitrary because of the difficulty of attaching dollar values to lives, environmental goods, and other regulatory benefits. Conservatives replied that cost-benefit analysis blocks bad regulations: Why would one support a regulation that produces higher costs than benefits?...The debate continued in this vein for decades, but over time, positions shifted. Some liberals came to see cost-benefit analysis as a good-government tool that promotes transparency and accountability, while some conservatives began to wonder whether it confers legitimacy on the New Deal state...[A]cademic research has shown that many of the cost-benefit analyses issued under all administrations were shoddy; in fact, there is little evidence that the introduction of cost-benefit analysis has improved the quality of regulations. The reason is that courts do not usually force agencies to comply with cost-benefit analyses, so unless the president steps in, the agency can do what it wants." [Eric Posner, TNR]
(Nod to Kevin Lewis)
If the NY Times and the New Republic both think Pres. Obama's signature reform program is balloon juice...it's probably balloon juice!