JLF Memo
Feb. 14th, 2013: - johnlocke.org Manage Subscriptions

Good 'red tape' vs. regulatory rigmarole
By Jon Sanders

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A bill before the North Carolina House would institute periodic review and expiration of North Carolina's "more than 22,500 permanent administrative rules," the Wilmington Star-News reported. House Bill 74 would set up a timeline for rolling expirations of rules, from 2016 through 2019, if they are not readopted in the interim. It would further stipulate that, after a rule is either adopted, readopted, or amended, it will remain in effect for only 10 years.

Periodic review of state rules is a much-needed reform I discussed in my first Carolina Cronyism report and in my chapter on "The Next Steps on Regulatory Reform" in the John Locke Foundation's policy book First in Freedom: Transforming Ideas Into Consequences for North Carolina.

In that chapter, I explain that rules carry the full force of law, with penalties such as fines and even jail for violations of them, but they are devised by bureaucrats who aren't directly accountable to the voters. This power is delegated to them from the legislature, but it can be abused, and as I discuss the system,

North Carolina's regulatory process is still internally biased toward increasing regulation, ever growing the regulatory burden that is slowing industry and hampering economic recovery. The state's economic climate is helped by good rules that give a clear picture of the legal framework for conducting business in the many enterprises within the state. Nevertheless, it is harmed when rules appear arbitrary, multiply and compound, persist after practical obsolescence, and work more to help the regulating agencies rather than benefit citizens and businesses.

Periodic review and automatic expiration without readoption or amendment would appear to help address those concerns. First in Freedom offers several more ways, including making the regulatory process more transparent, strengthening the Rules Review Commission, injecting full cost/benefit analysis, bringing REINS to North Carolina (also recently discussed in this newsletter), applying a no-more-stringent standard, reforming administrative appeals, and adding small-business flexibility analysis.

The Star-News reported differing receptions for HB 74:

Cameron Moore, governmental affairs director for BASE, supports a review of the rules. BASE represents about 12,000 members involved in the real estate and development industry in Southeastern North Carolina.

"Any kind of look at rules and regulations is certainly worthwhile," Moore said. "This discussion needs to happen."

But environmentalists had a harsher reaction. They were concerned the bill adds "red tape" and makes regulation more difficult.

"Over the past decade, rule-making has become an increasingly complex and lengthy process that is easily stalled and delayed by anyone that objects to a new rule," said Todd Miller, executive director of the N.C. Coastal Federation. "This bill will require that all existing rules be re-adopted, and if someone objects, that means that an agency or commission will be tied in knots trying to get standards back in place."

What 'red tape' means and why

Notwithstanding the environmentalists' complaint about HB 74's Red Tape That Makes Regulation More Difficult, cutting government regulations is the complete antithesis to adding red tape. Red tape is government regulation. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the meaning and origin of the expression "red tape" is

"excessive bureaucratic rigmarole," 1736, in reference to the red tape formerly used in Great Britain (and the American colonies) for binding up legal and other official documents.

Dictionary.com compiles several definitions of "red tape," all of which refer to entangling bureaucracy, and none of which refer to stymieing bureaucracy. Perhaps no one has yet informed Dictionary.com of the green version of red tape. For those inclined, the definition of rigmarole is also worth a gander.

If there is a red tape that actually binds bureaucracy and makes government regulation more difficult, then let it be called the good red tape. I would welcome it a hundred times over that "excessive bureaucratic rigmarole" crap.

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