Arguments Against a Reasoned Regulatory State

By February 14, 2009Regulations

The Center for Progressive Reform — boy, that’s a scary-sounding group — has released a paper by law professors attacking Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. OIRA is the section of the Office of Management and Budget that provides White House review and coordination, theoretically, for executive branch agencies.

In the publication, “Reinvigorating Protection of Health, Safety, and the Environment: The Choices Facing Cass Sunstein,” the reforming progressive identify the following “concerns” about Sunstein, a professor of law at Harvard:

  • Sunstein is a stout supporter of cost-benefit analysis as a primary tool for assessing regulations, despite its imprecision and the ease with which it is manipulated to achieve preferred policy outcomes;
  • He supports such cost-benefit approaches as the widely condemned “senior discount” method for undervaluing the lives of seniors in cost-benefit analyses, an approach even the Bush Administration was forced to disown;
  • He rejects the “precautionary principle” as a basis for regulating, thus ensuring that dangerous pollutants and products will be given the “benefit of the doubt,” rather than well-grounded concerns about health and safety;
  • He supports the centralization of authority over regulatory decisions in the White House – OIRA in particular, even though Congress delegated the exercise of expert judgment to the regulatory agencies, not to OIRA’s staff economists in the White House; and
  • He has written that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration might be unconstitutional.
  • We admire his stoutness and marvel at the idea that someone’s belief in cost-benefit analysis should be controversial. And he rejects the precautionary principle? Good.

    The progressivistic reformators were big supporters of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. How’s that working out nowadays?

    Addendum: Walter Olson points to a claim from the centgressives that warrants a dropped-jaw: “It is difficult to think of a single public health or environmental threat that with the benefit of additional research has not proven even more dangerous over time.”

    Right. Here’s a headline from this week: “Panel Finds Vaccines With Mercury Didn’t Cause Autism”

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