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Benefit of Cost-Benefit Analysis

Sure, it slows down decisions. Sure, it's difficult to do.

But exactly why does anybody not want to make a stab at figuring out whether the costs outweigh the benefits of changes that radically reshape an industry, an economy and the lives that have to work (and benefit) within them?

On Friday, the Investment Company Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were scheduled to go into U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia to have their case heard about whether regulations being enacted by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on registered investment companies were necessary or redundant.

The ICI and the Chamber of Commerce are asking the court to require the CFTC to weigh the costs of the new rules against the benefits, before allowing them to take effect. They contend that mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are already sufficiently regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and additional regulation by the CFTC would be duplicative, unnecessary and de facto costly.

And to what end?

"The CFTC failed to satisfy its statutory obligation to weigh the costs and benefits of this new regulation," said Eugene Scalia, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. "The agency imposed burdensome new requirements without showing that they are necessary, or even that they will be helpful to investors. What's more, just a few years ago the CFTC determined that similar requirements had adverse effects on the markets."

That kind of in-your-face response to regulators, who honestly are trying to make financial markets work safely, does not sit well with those who try to protect the public interest.

Wall Street interests are ''bastardizing'' the ''regulatory rule-making process'' spawned by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, CFTC member Bart Chilton has contended, in public.

"The thing about cost benefit analyses is, they are important to do,'' Chilton said on stage at the Javits Convention Center in New York in March. "But I think they've become sort of a scapegoat for trying to delay the process here."

It's a funky thing, that. The law actually requires cost-benefit analyses on significant new regulations.

Yet, time and time again, regulators want to argue words, not numbers.