It’s about time we got ‘Back to the Future’

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”

That was Doc Brown, the mad scientist of “Back to the Future” fame — and today, Oct. 21, 2015, is the future date he and Marty McFly plugged into the DeLorean in the movie’s 1989 hit sequel.

In that futuristic world, Americans enjoyed any number of advanced technologies. Flying cars, hoverboards, power-lacing shoes, you name it. And who could blame us for thinking this was possible by 2015? The 1980s were one of the most economically strong decades in history, driven by falling taxes, a strengthening dollar and deregulation of entire industries. As far as anyone was concerned, the only way was up — and we were going there fast.

Yet while technology has certainly advanced since then, it has been far surpassed by the growth of our government. The massive regulatory state has stifled countless entrepreneurs and innovators since Doc Brown and Marty McFly’s heyday.

As a result, the boundless possibilities we saw in “Back to the Future” have too often been held back by bureaucratic proliferation.

Just look at the explosion in federal regulations. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, last year there were 77,687 pages of federal regulations that cost American consumers and businesses nearly $1.9 trillion. The Obama administration alone has added more than $600 billion in annual economic costs.

That’s money that could develop the next world-changing technology, surpassing the personal computer, the iPhone or the self-driving car. Instead, it’s going to lawyers, accountants and lobbyists — none of whom move America forward.

There have also been unprecedented government intrusions into entire industries. While both parties have played their part, two of the worst examples have happened under the Obama administration — the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial legislation.

While the Affordable Care Act may have been passed with noble intentions, it has turned American health care into a monolithic bureaucracy. Its 2,700 pages of legislation and accompanying 13,000 pages of new regulations have put a straitjacket on insurers, physicians and patients. This has spurred a mass consolidation of the health care industry, leaving the rest of us with higher costs and fewer options.

Dodd-Frank is hardly any better. This single federal law has spawned 398 new regulations that added $22 billion in compliance costs and 61 million hours of paperwork each year.

This is crippling to small- and mid-size banks — the ones making most of the small business loans that spur entrepreneurship and innovation. Thanks to the regulatory burdens they face, it’s all but impossible to compete against the biggest banks. Goldman Sachs’ CEO put it bluntly, saying federal regulation has “raised the barriers to entry higher than at any other time in modern history.” Perversely, consumers also lose, with fewer options at higher cost.

And it’s not just the health care and banking industries suffocating under an out-of-control federal government. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more businesses are now dying than are being created — something that’s never happened in recorded history.

That’s not the future Doc Brown and Marty McFly imagined when they plugged Oct. 21, 2015 into the DeLorean. That’s why it’s imperative we elect leaders who will reverse this trend. We must get government out of the way so entrepreneurs and innovators can make the breakthroughs, the discoveries and the radical advances that seem like science fiction but could be right around the corner.

The next year will be crucial in determining whether this actually happens. As we evaluate the various candidates running for the White House, we should ask ourselves a simple question: Which candidate will actually bring us closer to making “Back to the Future” a reality?

— Nancy Pfotenhauer is the president of MediaSpeak Strategies and the former chief economist for President George H.W. Bush’s Council on Competitiveness.

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