Expiration Dates for Regulations

“What we need is what Peter Drucker recommended: expiration dates for regulations.” George Gilder

Listen to Peter Trucker

By George Gilder, The Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2014, p. A 15

In 1966, the eminent management sage Peter Drucker wrote about government regulation in “The Effective Executive” that “at a guess, at least half the bureaus and agencies” in government “regulate what no longer needs regulation.” He added: “There is a serious need for a new principle of effective administration under which every act, every agency, and every program of government is conceived as temporary and as expiring automatically after a fixed number of years—maybe ten—unless specifically prolonged by new legislation following careful outside study.”

When Drucker wrote, the U.S. was by far the leading force in world capitalism, and most regulatory bodies were relatively new. Today the U.S. is falling far behind Asian leaders in capitalist vitality. Not only is the U.S. less free than Hong Kong, it is less capitalistic by many measures than China, allegedly a communist country. China now boasts government revenues of just 17% of GDP, compared with U.S. revenues of 26% of GDP.

The key problem is the same one that Drucker identified in 1966—a glut of regulations and programs that no longer serve their purposes but which constitute a nearly insuperable barrier for creative new enterprise. Twenty years ago, initial public offerings in crucial technology domains exceeded mergers and acquisitions by a factor of 20. Today there are eight mergers and acquisitions for every IPO. Large companies that can deal with the mazes of government rules increase their dominance by purchasing potential rivals.

Most efforts focus on making regulations more efficient. But efficient performance of futile or obstructive functions makes the problems worse. What we need is what Peter Drucker recommended: expiration dates for regulations.

Mr. Gilder is the author of “Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism” (Regnery, 2013).

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