Well, the Washington Post has made a feeble attempt to weigh in on this question but in a way that makes one wonder why. As I wrote on Monday, a front page story that day had at least 13 references to jobs either in quotes or attributions that made the claim that “regulations kill jobs,” exactly the message Republicans want delivered. Even though the reporters of that story admitted in it that those making the claims didn’t provide evidence that it was true, Post reporters David Hilzenrath and Phil Rucker gave a big megaphone to that claim.
When I sent my Monday post to Rucker, he responded that “we will do our due diligence to fact-check industry’s claims.” Perhaps today’s article is that “due diligence.” If so, it is thin gruel served up not on page one in a 1,500+ word story as was Monday’s, but on page A13 and in less than 600 words. And it makes no effort to fact check.
In fact, the story’s headline sort of promises something the article doesn’t deliver. In the print edition this morning, the headline is “Panel: Do regulations kill jobs?” Hilzenrath then spends the first part of the aisle quoting from a clearly partisan report by the staff of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Republican California Congressman Darrell Issa. All the quotes or attributions are unsubstantiated.
"Many regulations that appear to impose a large burden on the private sector, while providing a dubious benefit to the public, still remain on course and on the books," the staff of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform says in a report prepared for a hearing Thursday on complaints from business groups.
The report is part of a broad review of federal regulations by the new Republican leadership in the House, spearheaded by the chairman of the oversight panel, Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.).
Issa asked business groups to identify regulations that have hurt employment, and the report draws on more than 200 responses addressing rules in areas such as the environment, workplace safety and Wall Street.
Though Issa’s staff has said it is still gathering information, some conclusions appear in the report.
"There is some evidence that regulations affecting the financial services industry may limit the job creation and growth capabilities of the U.S., reducing economic growth by as much as 4 percent," the report says.
The report cites Environmental Protection Agency standards for industrial boilers as "an example of the Agency getting the cost-benefit balance wrong."
It cites the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as arguing that "industries are effectively regulated out of business."
And it highlights the benefits of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a process by which natural gas deposits are extracted. Some communities have protested that the process can contaminate drinking water.
The staff report says fracking "is crucial to accessing enormous deposits," and it says the EPA’s approach to the issue "could be a precursor to full-blown EPA regulation of this job-creating domestic power resource."
Similarly, the report expresses concern about potential regulation of the ash created when coal is burned to create electricity. "The substantial costs of handling coal ash as hazardous waste would be insurmountable for many power plants," it says.
Hilzenrath then turns over the last part of the article to arguments from folks with a different view. They say regulations may spur innovation and create jobs in new fields, or that lack of regulations actually hurts the job market, i.e., insufficient financial regulation costs lots of jobs, and not just in the financial sector. Former labor secretary in the Clinton administration Robert Reich argues colorfully.
"Presumably, we could generate a lot of jobs by getting rid of all regulations and working for $2 an hour in dangerous and fetid working conditions in cities whose air could hardly be breathed and spewing out products that one in 10 consumers might die from."
So the article itself never answers the question in the headline. In fact, the headline is misleading as the panel didn’t pose the question as much as gave a one-sided partisan answer. Granted reporters don’t write headlines and headline writers all too frequently seem not to read articles. But the bottom line is that this is just another “he said, she said” article.
Here is another way of getting to the question.
I grant you that it would be pretty easy to argue that regulations cost businesses money. A particular business hit with regulations may be poorer for it and may consequently, not hire as much as they would if they didn’t have to spend the money complying with regulations. However, even that conclusion is suspect. How do we know that the cash saved by not having to comply with regulations won’t simply go to shareholders as higher dividends or executives in the form of higher pay?
And what about the jobs that regulations create. Certainly someone has to work on the regulations and enforce them. And regulations that might hinder one industry create opportunities for other companies in competing industries.
But I don’t think that’s what regulatory critics are arguing. They are referring to jobs in their companies or industry. But is that what is most important for the common good, or as the U.S. Constitution puts it, are the regulations designed to “promote the general welfare”?
After more than 2,100 words from The Post, we still don’t know.