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Politics

The White House touts Trump's deregulation. It's actually been a bust.

Catherine Rampell on

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Last week, amid damning new testimony in the impeachment inquiry, the White House tried to change the subject by touting one of its supposed wins: President Trump's "historic deregulation."

"We are now reducing the size, scope, and cost of Federal regulations for the first time in decades, and we are already seeing the incredible results," Trump said. In a Cabinet meeting, senior officials likewise offered inflated economic numbers about Trump's "gangbusters" deregulatory achievements.

In reality, Trump's regulatory rollback has largely been a bust. In some cases, in fact, it's been an outright fraud: The Trump administration has added bureaucracy and uncertainty for businesses that it either willfully misunderstands or overtly dislikes.

Consider a list of Trump's major deregulatory efforts, many of which involve allowing companies to pollute more.

Yes, there are a few identifiable, isolated winners from this agenda. Like, imagine you run a company whose business model depends on dumping lead, mercury or arsenic into the water; pumping methane or fine particulates into the air; or using pesticides that give kids brain damage. Sure, recently loosened restrictions on these toxic activities might fatten your profit margins.

 

But whether such policy changes significantly boost the overall economy is a different question entirely.

One reason to distrust the administration's claims about these regulatory rollbacks: In its official cost-benefit analyses of such changes, it has used a lot of shady -- one might say dishonest -- assumptions. In other words, it's cooking the books.

For instance, in some cases it has thrown out solid scientific studies that happen to produce inconvenient results. In others, it has disqualified large categories of benefits historically counted in such assessments. It has also arbitrarily scaled back estimates for the social cost of carbon. And so on.

These are all wonky, technical accounting changes that go largely unnoticed by the public. That's by design. The goal is to make Trump's deregulatory efforts look like they're turbocharging the economy.

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