Since Jan. 30, 2017, the Trump administration’s approach to federal regulation has been defined by a simple requirement: “one in, two out.” The basic idea, set out in one of President Trump’s first executive orders, is that whenever a federal agency issues one regulation, it has to take at least two regulations away — and produce an incremental cost, on the private sector, of zero.
The idea was absurd from the very start.
It was profoundly demoralizing to experts in federal agencies, who know a lot about science and who have plenty of good ideas about how to protect public health and safety. But its absurdity has been put in a whole new light by the Covid-19 pandemic, which demonstrates that the regulatory state is no enemy of the people — and that smart safeguards, designed by specialists, save lives.
It is true that to many people, the one-in, two-out idea has a lot of intuitive appeal. For one thing, it instructs regulators — at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and Human Services and elsewhere — to get rid of outmoded or dumb regulations.
If we want to free up the private sector from regulations that do more harm than good, it might make sense to insist: If you want to do something new, you had better get rid of something old.