How much fuel your car burns. What type of light bulb you buy. How much energy your appliances use. What kind of health plan you have.
What do they have in common? Meet your hidden master: regulations.
The devil's in the details, the saying goes. And in today's America, those details increasingly boil down to a long list of rules governing nearly every aspect of life. In fiscal year 2010, according to a recent report from The Heritage Foundation, the Obama administration adopted regulations that will cost more than $26.5 billion a year.
The nanny state isn't just a nagging do-gooder - it's a costly scold.
Let's look at regulations in three broad areas - financial reform, health care and the environment - for some concrete examples of what lawmakers can cut, and why.
Some people found reason to cheer when Congress passed a law to "punish" Wall Street financiers. Fifteen of the 43 major rules that came out over the last fiscal year came from this regulatory crackdown. But a closer look at those rules suggests we have little reason to celebrate.
Take debit-card interchange fees. The new financial reform law requires the Federal Reserve to regulate what banks can charge merchants for processing debit-card purchases. Yes, those fees will come down - but, bank officials are already warning the public, that doesn't mean you'll be saving money. Banks will make up that lost revenue by hiking other fees. We're likely to see higher interest rates - and fewer options for credit.
In a free market, insurers compete for your business. They have every reason to offer the best coverage for the lowest price - after all, they want you to sign up with them. But with the array of new rules we now have, courtesy of President Obama's signature health bill, Washington isn't making it easy for you.
A laundry list of new regulations are decreeing what insurance companies can offer, including coverage for dependent children up to age 26, no coverage exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and no-copays or deductibles for preventative services. The law will even dictate, starting in 2014, what services are in a "basic" insurance plan. And that's going to drive up the cost of insurance for everybody.
Say you're a healthy young single person with no drug problem. Feel like paying for a "basic" plan that includes pediatric services and substance-abuse treatment? You might not have much of a choice.
Then there's the "employer mandate." That's a rule that forces any company with 50 or more employees to provide health benefits, or pay a penalty of $2,000 per worker. Hello, unintended consequences: Some large corporations may simply drop coverage for their workers, because it's cheaper for them to pay the penalty.
Whether you prefer old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs, or new compact fluorescents, you may think the choice is yours. Too bad. Our "betters" in Washington have imposed stringent regulations leading to a phase-out of incandescents - a ban in all but name.
Efficiency standards govern almost every appliance we buy, from battery chargers to water heaters. And they sound benign. But they're no friend to the consumer.
"In many cases, the efficiency standards increase the price of appliances by more than consumers will recoup from energy savings," writes Heritage regulation expert Diane Katz.
Fuel economy standards are no better. By increasing the cost of new cars, they cause more drivers to stick with older, less fuel-efficient vehicles. And research shows that by lowering the per-mile cost of driving, fuel standards actually induce people to drive more - defeating the purpose of having the standards in the first place.
Tax bills are just part of what you pay for government. Federal regulations cost the average American household some $17,500 per year. It's time Congress put a stop to this expensive meddling. Rolling back the $26.5 billion in rules added just last year would be a good start.
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).