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A simple solution to our regulatory woes

November 17, 2011

One of the biggest problems many Americans have with our government these days is that there’s just too much of it. I can sympathize with this. The child support system in New York State, for instance, is quite convoluted. And even when you think you’re doing everything right (like, you know, paying child support in the right amount and on time) you can still find yourself getting your Drivers License suspended for not filling out the right paperwork in the right way (and not even knowing that it has been until you get pulled over one day).

There is, of course, a more personal story to tell there which I won’t relate today (it’s all been taken care of); but my point is that my travels through the twists and turns of the child support system in New York have demonstrated that there really are often too many people in government positions who either don’t have a sense of what their job actually is, or who don’t care, or both. It’s really quite frustrating, and it’s not just some conservative myth. And I can certainly see why some people link government regulations to unnecessary tax burdens.

That said, I still find it hard to fathom how so many people can think that the solution to such problems in our government is to simply do away with most regulations on people and businesses altogether. Should we simply trust the free market to force people to pay child support who don’t want to? Don’t get pregnant by that guy! A market analysis suggests that he won’t pay up when the time comes. You’re much better off marrying that other guy over there. Right…

It’s a silly example, of course, but why should we believe that decreasing regulation on entities like oil companies or processes like deep water drilling will give us better results through the “free market?” The invisible hand of the market can only move as a reaction to events that have happened or are perceived to potentially happen. It doesn’t deal well with events that no one expects. And it’s reactive nature doesn’t prevent bad things from happening so much as discourage them from happening again.

Thus, if a company like BP tells people that what they’re doing is completely safe, and pays for scientific evidence to “prove” that; then who would be there to question them if not for government regulators unless and until it is proven completely wrong by a real life event such as an oil well blowout on the sea floor? The answer is no one. Smart investors might steer clear of the company knowing that someday it’s profits could be hurt by such a disaster. But greedy ones likely won’t, and there certainly are enough of them to keep such a company fluid for a very long time.

So to say that government regulation is inherently a bad thing is just not a particularly defensible position logically. The fact is that we need government to regulate things like paying child support and drilling for oil. The market isn’t forward thinking enough to effectively control future bad events unless it knows they’re coming – which it generally won’t or, more likely, simply can’t.

But there is a solution to this, even for the conservative “drill, baby, drill” crowd – at least the ones who are willing to listen to reason. In order to decrease the size of government and eliminate waste in regulatory agencies, start supporting industries that don’t require so much regulation.

The reason that the government needs to regulate oil drilling is that it’s incredibly dangerous – both for the people who do it and for the citizens who could be affected by any disasters it might cause.  The same goes for coal processing plants, automobile manufacturing, etc. In comparison, how much environmental damage could a solar power plant do to its surrounding area once it’s built? A wind farm? There certainly might be some unforeseen consequences, but I can’t see any possibility in which it could devestate an entire economy and ecosystem in the way that the BP oil well blowout or the coal slurry spill in Tennessee did.

Clean energy, when seen from this point of view, is the solution for both environmentalists and free market proponents in a way that oil and coal never can be. As long as dangerous industries exist, government must be there to regulate them. The only way to truly limit the need for government regulation is to develop and support industries that don’t require so much of it. And after that, paying people to push around child support paperwork might not turn out to be such a tax burden for us after all.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2011 12:10 pm

    Your whole conclusion–support clean energy–is kind of a no brainer that I don’t think anyone would oppose you on, even the “big government is evil” crowd.

    However, the point they would ask is this: who is propping up clean energy? Government (as in the Solyndra case) or the market?


    • November 17, 2011 12:26 pm

      In regards to your first question, there are millions of people who think clean energy is a sham. Mostly because conservative pundits tell them so.

      Also, in 2010, fossil fuel subsidies weighed in at just over $400 billion compared to just under $70 billion for clean-energy subsidies. The market isn’t deciding any of this anymore, oil companies are.


  2. November 17, 2011 12:16 pm

    Consider this an addendum.

    I did not mention in this post government regulations that actually should not exist at all (of which there are many) such as the newly proposed Internet Censorship bills being considered by Congress which you can speak out against here. This is because I plan to treat this issue separately one day. Hopefully soon, but who can tell…


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