Thursday, July 7, 2011

The huge costs of small regulations

I've been visiting my home state of New York this week (I'm from Upstate NY, not that other part of the state). One doesn't have to be in NY very long to appreciate how even small differences in economic freedom can impose significant burdens. For example, the first time you stop to fill up with gas in NY you realize that there is no device on the pump handle to keep the pump going by itself. Instead, you have to squeeze the handle until your tank is full. Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but it does mean that you need to add time to your stop if you want to wash your windows. Instead of washing them while you wait for your gas to finish filling, you need to wait until after it's done. As a result, a quick stop to fill your tank and wash your windows takes maybe 50 percent longer in NY than in Missouri, or nearly every other state. (Note that in New Jersey and Oregon you are not allowed to pump your own gas.)

What seems like a minor inconvenience is really a very costly policy. Say it takes an average of 1.5 additional minutes for you to pump gas and that fill your tank once a week. Based on an average hourly wage of $20, this translates into a time cost of 75 cents every time you fill your tank, or $27.50 per year. Multiply this by the 10 million (this is an educated guess) motorists in NY state, and you get a total cost of $260 million. So, according to my very back-of-the-envelope calculations, this seemingly minor inconvenience costs New Yorkers over a quarter a billion dollars a year.

It's easy to quibble with the details of my calculations, but the fact remains that this minor irritant costs hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Multiply this by the many minor and major (and often pointless) regulations that govern our daily lives, and one begins to appreciate the scale of the burden that regulations can impose.