President Obama's "you didn't build it" gaffe just defined the 2012 campaign. It succinctly encapsulates the president's prejudices about the public versus the private sector. Though the president has frequently mouthed platitudes in praise of enterprise, his suspicion and contempt for business has always percolated just beneath the surface.
Of course, the president is partially correct, in a banal sort of way. Yes, roads, bridges, firefighters and teachers are essential prerequisites to establishing an environment in which business can operate. So are peace and freedom -- for which we must thank the military.
But the president doesn't understand that a critical aspect of good government -- and an essential ingredient for stimulating economic growth -- is not just roads but rules of the road. As economist John Taylor reminds us, steady, predictable and permanent rules permit business owners -- and individuals -- to plan for the future.
That is the opposite of what the Obama administration has provided. Obama touts his small business tax credits, but in his stimulus bill, the proposed 2011 jobs act and other legislation, the tax incentives are temporary, while the tax increases are permanent.
The Heritage Foundation estimates that the burden of regulation under Obama is five times what it was under George W. Bush. The yearly cost of regulatory compliance was $8.1 billion under Bush. It's $46 billion under Obama.
The regulatory drag goes beyond those compliance costs. The uncertainty about what government will require in the future is inhibiting expansion and risk-taking. The two marquee laws passed under this administration -- the ironically titled Affordable Care Act and Dodd/Frank -- are vast pools of dark matter. They vest enormous discretion in federal bureaucrats so that no one knows what to expect. Most of the rules regarding insurance costs, penalties (i.e., taxes) and minimum standards for insurance, remain to be issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. Adding to the sense of arbitrariness are the hundreds of waivers HHS has issued to politically favored businesses and unions.
Testifying before the Financial Services Committee, a small banker from Illinois noted about Dodd/Frank that "Each new regulation ... adds another layer of complexity and cost of doing business. ... (It) has stimulated an environment of uncertainty, and has added new risks that will inevitably translate into fewer loans to small businesses."