The Case for RegulationOn the surface, government regulation provides a much needed service to our uncertain world and protects us from rampant subjugation to the whims of our neighbors. It is such a compelling and simple concept that I have a great deal of empathy for those who believe it to be true. Many of my fellow travelers in the quest for greater individual freedom hold the position that, of course, we need some minimal level of regulation from government. Who could be so extreme, callous and ignorant to propose that we should have none?
Me for one.
When I was growing up, my mother made us do chores. I'm glad she did because when I struck out on my own I knew how to cook, sweep the floors, do the laundry and clean the toilet. I had the skills and the compulsion to keep a clean kitchen and an orderly bedroom. But when I pause to think about the quality of the work I did as a child and contrast it to that which I do in my own house, I am embarrassed. Now I was a well-behaved child, but I did the bare minimum I could get by with less I disappoint dear mother. My style of cleaning in those days could well be described as "hitting the high spots." I never moved chairs to sweep beneath them. I rarely took the items off of the bathroom sink to wipe it down. I mastered the art of pushing them back, wiping and pulling them forward, thus creating an illusion akin to sweeping dust under a rug, which I was also not above.
Comparatively, I am a cleaning Nazi when it comes to my own house - think rigid discipline and rampant germicide.
Why the disparity? What drives us to literally and figuratively sweep things under the rug in certain conditions and not others?
Ownership and ResponsibilityThe difference now is that I own the house I live in and thus have an internal drive to keep it neat and orderly. Even when I rented an apartment, the effect of being the sole person responsible for housekeeping created an immediate shift in my behavior. I knew that if I did not keep my place in order it would directly effect how I felt about myself, and perhaps just as important, how visitors felt about me.
Granted, in the case of industry in the market there is still the effect of ownership and responsibility to one's customers. But consider for a moment the effects of a paternalistic regulatory apparatus on the goals of an organization. The confines of regulation are inherently slow to change and rarely focused entirely on the safety and satisfaction of the consumer or the public at large. They are necessarily driven in large part by political forces and are usually subject to the powerful influence of relatively small interest groups. Besides these effects they shift the focus of industry in part away from satisfying customers, which includes an interest in their safety, on to the particular guidelines provided by regulatory bodies. This provides industry with the perverse objective to dot the i's and cross the t's provided by regulation and then, if they run afoul of public safety, to blame the shortsightedness of the regulatory body which has claimed ownership and responsibility for an orderly society.