It’s not the regulations, stupid

President Obama thinks the economy needs a jobs bill to boost demand. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor thinks demand is irrelevant and the economy needs deregulation because, well, he just does.

There’s been a fair amount of work done lately to help demonstrate just how wrong Republicans are about regulations holding the economy back — this paper from the Economic Policy Institute’s Lawrence Mishel is terrific — but folks should definitely take the time to review this new piece from Bruce Bartlett.

As Bartlett, an economist and a veteran of the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations, explained, Republicans have been told to argue that freeing the private sector of consumer safeguards and worker protections will reduce “uncertainty.” Unfortunately for the GOP, from a policy perspective, they’re living in fantasy land.

Evidence supporting Mr. Cantor’s contention that deregulation would increase unemployment is very weak. For some years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has had a program that tracks mass layoffs. In 2007, the program was expanded, and businesses were asked their reasons for laying off workers. Among the reasons offered was “government regulations/intervention.” There is only partial data for 2007, but we have data since then through the second quarter of this year. […]

As one can see, the number of layoffs nationwide caused by government regulation is minuscule and shows no evidence of getting worse during the Obama administration. Lack of demand for business products and services is vastly more important.

These results are supported by surveys. During June and July, Small Business Majority asked 1,257 small-business owners to name the two biggest problems they face. Only 13 percent listed government regulation as one of them. Almost half said their biggest problem was uncertainty about the future course of the economy — another way of saying a lack of customers and sales.

Surveys from major news outlets, including conservative institutions like the Wall Street Journal, and the National Federation of Independent Business found the same thing: the private sector is concerned about customers and demand, not regulations.

Bruce concluded, “In my opinion, regulatory uncertainty is a canard invented by Republicans that allows them to use current economic problems to pursue an agenda supported by the business community year in and year out. In other words, it is a simple case of political opportunism, not a serious effort to deal with high unemployment.”

Exactly right. Republicans would ordinarily be demanding tax cuts, but with President Obama already having cut taxes more than Bush/Cheney did, and the deal last December keeping Bush-era rates in place for everyone, they’re left with one talking point. We’re apparently not supposed to notice that this is simply part of the traditional GOP wish list, regardless of economic circumstances. We’re also supposed to overlook the fact that these “burdensome” regulations Republicans are so eager to eliminate include some pretty basic measures to keep workers safe from preventable injuries on the job.

As policy arguments go, GOP rhetoric has been reduced to a pathetic level. We’re in the midst of a jobs crisis and facing a threat of a severe downturn, and this is the best congressional Republicans can come up with? Consider this Exhibit A in the case for the right’s intellectual bankruptcy.