How Would You Change Regulation?

U.S, Sen Lindsay Graham (R-SC) speaks during a press conference on National Labor Relations Board regulations on Capitol Hill September 14, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, founder and chair of Common Good and author of The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America, Philip K. Howard, offered ideas for writing regulations that protect without stifling innovation.

'You can't just deregulate'

When Republicans talk job creation, they usually talk deregulation. Indeed, Philip Howard said regulations drive small businesses crazy, as they struggle to keep up with a litany of rules that can get as specific as telling you exactly how to lay out your factory.

It's not that regulation is necessarily bad, cautioned Howard, who called it necessary in a "global, anonymous" economy. It's just that we don't have the right kind of regulatory structure. Those who want to throw the baby out with the bathwater aren't looking down the road.

They're just going for short term economic benefits for whomever, but unfortunately they have longer term economic costs...You can't just 'deregulate' and solve the problem, nor can you do what Obama has suggested, which is prune stupid regulations.

Quality, not quantity

Having no regulation is bad, but having more regulation—even the amount we have now—isn't better. Howard pointed out that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for all its rules protecting workers, has no discernible effect on workplace safety. Paradoxically, it is perhaps because there are so many rules that they don't do any good.

No one could possibly know every rule, and that's one of the problems with it...The rules are so dense that literally no one can comply with them. If you're a mean-spirited government inspector, you can find non-compliance in any workplace, in any home in America.

Re-humanizing regulation

Instead of writing rules that are easy to implement, and create safe conditions (not headaches), we try to control every aspect of workers' and businesses' lives, Howard said. That diverts "massive amounts of energy" from focusing on a sensible approach to safety—one doesn't need a rule to tell them they should keep stairways lit, and a regulator doesn't need the rule to see that such a condition would be unsafe, according to Howard.

We need to rehumanize regulation, give people responsibility and bounded authority to government officials and have an imperfect world that at least is focused on the ultimate goal.