More Evidence on Laissez-Fairism

by Don Boudreaux on May 21, 2010

in History, Reality Is Not Optional, Regulation

George Washington University’s Susan Dudley, and the Weidenbaum Center’s Melinda Warren, just released this important study: A Decade of Growth in the Regulators’ Budget: An Analysis of the U.S. Budget for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011.

I highlight one fact here – a fact that is at odds with those persons who allege that the period roughly from 1980 to 2009 was one of laissez-fairism in America: the total amount of real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) dollars spent by Uncle Sam’s administrative agencies on regulating the economy rose by 36 percent between 1980 and 1990.  This spending then rose by another 40 percent between 1990 and 2000.  Between 2000 and 2009 it rose by 43 percent.

So, by 2009, Uncle Sam’s real expenditures on regulating the economy were 174 percent higher than they were in 1980.

(By the way, between 1970 and 1980, the increase in these real expenditures was 29 percent – a smaller percentage-rate increase than during any decade since.  Between 1960 and 1970, in contrast, this spending more than doubled, increasing by 108 percent.)

One can argue that Uncle Sam’s real expenditures on regulating the economy between the year Ronald Reagan was first elected to the White House (1980) and the year George W. Bush left the White House (2009) did not rise by enough.  But one cannot legitimately argue that the past 30 years were marked by a general retreat of government from the economy and a blooming of laissez-fairism in actual policy.

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