Opinion: Trump’s decluttering plan: ‘The Life-Changing Magic’ of killing regulations


Seeking to fulfill another campaign promise, President Trump issued an executive order Monday morning instructing the federal departments and agencies under his control to identify at least two regulations that could be repealed for every new regulation they propose.

The two-for-one, new-lamps-for-old framework is just the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from the new president. Reductive, sure, but a dramatic departure from Washington’s way of doing things. None of that cost-benefit nonsense here; just focus on the costs that government imposes, and start whacking away. And with a clear formula — one in, two or more out — we’ll be jettisoning rules in no time.

For the record:

3:22 p.m. March 23, 2023The original version of this post incorrectly stated that the Mercatus Center is at George Washington University. It’s at George Mason University.

The order doesn’t give any guidance, however, on which rules to wipe out. And gosh, there are so many that it’s hard to know where to begin.


So in the spirit of a new president who’s trying to keep things simple, here’s a suggestion for the bureaucrats who will be tasked with the new regulatory streamlining: Pick the rules you want to eliminate the same way you’d go about decluttering your life.

Not just old rules are in the administration’s cross-hairs. It’s anything that is expensive to comply with, regardless of how beneficial it might be.

For example, consider a Six Month Dictum: If you haven’t enforced a particular rule in six months, donate it to the United Nations for some other country to use. Or try Marie Kondo’s advice from “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying”: If a regulation no longer brings you joy, issue a notice of proposed rulemaking right now and begin the process of revoking it.

I know what you’re thinking: Sure, that rule may be gathering dust back there in the corner of the Code of Federal Regulations, but someday you may really need it. That’s why you’ve resisted the impulse all these years to leave it on the median strip for another department head to cart off. It’s easy to get sentimentally attached to things even after they become obsolete. But that’s how pack rats are born.

And it’s not just old rules that are in the administration’s crosshairs. It’s anything that is expensive to comply with, regardless of how beneficial it might be to the country’s economic stability, human health, competition or consumer protection. The more compliance costs you can jettison, the more room you’ll create within the regulatory cost budget that the administration intends to impose on you.

That’s why you should think about the regulations you oversee as an overstuffed closet, and focus on the biggest ones first. Take, for example, the Treasury Department’s “Liquidity Coverage Ratio” rule requiring large banks with billions of dollars at risk overseas to keep larger reserves of cash and other reliably valuable assets. The Heritage Foundation estimates that this rule alone imposes an estimated $2.5 billion in costs, presumably on the banking industry. The rule “may seem sensible,” Heritage concedes, but the heck with that, right? Because all the big Wall Street banks maintained plenty of reserves before the housing bubble burst. Oh, wait….

Another rich vein of costly rules that could be tapped is at the Food and Drug Administration. According to a study by the free-market-oriented Mercatus Center at George Mason University, jumping through the FDA’s hoops adds an estimated $75 million to the cost of bringing a higher-risk medical device to the market, and $2.6 billion to the cost of a new drug. Why not dump some of those rules? What could possibly go wrong?

Look, I said I was trying to simplify things, not that it would actually be easy. The dividing line between rules that waste money and those that deliver real public benefits varies according to your point of view and what interests you have at stake. Nevertheless, scrapping 75% of the federal regulatory burden — the goal Trump laid out for a group of business leaders this month — requires bureaucrats to be bold. That’s especially true given that some of the costliest regulations come from independent federal agencies that aren’t covered by Trump’s order, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and that pesky Environmental Protection Agency. Nor are rules that Congress wrote into law.

So, Mr. and Ms. Department Head, start making a list now of all the rules and regulations you enforce. Then ask yourself, which ones don’t bring you joy?

Twitter: @jcahealey