In a speech on October 11 promoting his tax-reform plan, Donald Trump spoke rosily of America’s economic revival, crediting himself for having cleared the way for growth. “Since January of this year, we have slashed job-killing red tape all across our economy,” the president said. “We have stopped or eliminated more regulations in the last eight months than any president has done during an entire term. It’s not even close.”
It seemed a characteristic bit of Trumpian magniloquence—he’s not only a boffo deregulator, he’s the best ever! Still, it was a remarkable claim. Trump has overseen more deregulation than George W. Bush or Ronald “government is the problem” Reagan?
But, measured by at least one significant standard, Trump’s claim is true. Patrick McLaughlin of the Mercatus Center, a free-market-oriented think tank at George Mason University, applies innovative research techniques to the study of regulation and the economy. He recently analyzed the output of regulatory restrictions promulgated in the last several presidencies, going back to Jimmy Carter. McLaughlin found that there have been periods in some presidencies when regulatory output slowed or declined—in several years of the Reagan presidency, for instance, and in 1996, when “reinventing government” was part of Bill Clinton’s election pitch. But over the full terms of each recent president, including Reagan, regulation increased, according to McLaughlin. So far the increase in regulatory restrictions under Trump has been near to zero.
“So in that sense, the president may be right,” the economist reports. “There may not be a net increase in regulations so far under him, and since there was a net increase in every four-year term for every preceding president, going back to the ’70s, then I think that could be a safe statement.”
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