Sunday, April 4, 2010

Regulators (and a new Warning)

While eating our Easter lunch at Taco Bell today, the Wife, the In-Laws, and I were discussing one of the public initiatives within ObamaCare that will have an immediate effect on our lives (considering that the health care/insurance stuff doesn't fully kick in until 2014, well after our next presidential election and into the 2016 election race):  chain restaurants will have to provide nutrition information on their menus.

Some highlights from the discussion:
  • Most of us seemed to be in agreement that it was a ridiculous requirement.  
  • I noted that many stores had already been proudly displaying these facts in full view of their paying customers (Subway was the first that came to mind).  
  • The Bro-in-Law noted that most people already know that quick/cheap/convenient food (usually) = high in calories
  • And then the Wife noted that most people will probably become desensitized to the information overload.
And she's exactly right (as usual).

Think about all of the "Cover Your Ass" legalese that we encounter everyday and (for the most part) completely ignore.  I have a pile of small-engine yard and garden equipment user manuals in my garage filled with warnings that I've never read.  There are thousands of "small print" explanations and warnings that I've glossed over in my lifetime.  Warning signs on cigarettes, slippery floor signs, caution signs, speed limit signs, prescription labels, and the list goes on and on.  All of these are supposedly for "my own good," yet I ignore them (or at least pay them no heed).

One of the main selling points for me about small/limited government is that it puts an emphasis on personal responsibility and common sense.  With this bombardment of warnings and cations comes a sense of "well, my government (or this company) is looking out for me, so why should I worry?"

Today, Glenn Reynolds wrote in the Washington Examiner about "The Knowledge Problem" inherent in government regulations.
Economist Friedrich Hayek explained in 1945 why centrally controlled "command economies" were doomed to waste, inefficiency, and collapse: Insufficient knowledge. He won a Nobel Prize. But it turns out he was righter than he knew.
In his "The Use of Knowledge In Society," Hayek explained that information about supply and demand, scarcity and abundance, wants and needs exists in no single place in any economy. The economy is simply too large and complicated for such information to be gathered together.
Any economic planner who attempts to do so will wind up hopelessly uninformed and behind the times, reacting to economic changes in a clumsy, too-late fashion and then being forced to react again to fix the problems that the previous mistakes created, leading to new problems, and so on.
Market mechanisms, like pricing, do a better job than planners because they incorporate what everyone knows indirectly through signals like price, without central planning.
Thus, no matter how deceptively simple and appealing command economy programs are, they are sure to trip up their operators, because the operators can't possibly be smart enough to make them work.
Hayek's insight into economics and regulation is often called "The Knowledge Problem," and it is a very powerful notion. But recent events suggest that it's not just the economy that regulators don't understand well enough -- it's also their own regulations.  
The United States Code -- containing federal statutory law -- is more than 50,000 pages long and comprises 40 volumes. The Code of Federal Regulations, which indexes administrative rules, is 161,117 pages long and composes 226 volumes.
No one on Earth understands them all, and the potential interaction among all the different rules would choke a supercomputer. This means, of course, that when Congress changes the law, it not only can't be aware of all the real-world complications it's producing, it can't even understand the legal and regulatory implications of what it's doing.
There's good news and bad news in that. The bad news is obvious: We're governed not just by people who do screw up constantly, but by people who can't help but screw up constantly. So long as the government is this large and overweening, no amount of effort at securing smarter people or "better" rules will do any good: Incompetence is built into the system.
The good news is less obvious, but just as important: While we rightly fear a too-powerful government, this regulatory knowledge problem will ensure plenty of public stumbles and embarrassments, helping to remind people that those who seek to rule us really don't know what they're doing.
Mr. Reynolds hope is that these public stumbles will increase the public's skepticism toward Big Government (and I hope that too, but like the saying goes:  hope in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up first).  Instead, as I've pointed out before, there are now three things you can take to the bank:  death, taxes, and the growth of government.

Each regulatory failure rarely leads to a paring back of previously enacted regulations, but instead, new "fixes" are trotted out and piled on to previous regulations.  And these new regulations usually compound previous "fixes" ad nauseum. 

My solution?  I propose every ballot come with the following warning:   
Voting for this candidate and/or referendum will, in all likelihood, lead to a reduction of your money and liberties and freedoms.  
Because one more warning can only help, right?

UPDATE:  The following picture was featured in a recent Hit & Run blog post at about "the Nanny State."  The picture displays two points about over-regulation and nanny statism:
  1. When annoying noises are outlawed, only outlaws will make annoying noises.  It is quite annoying to me that these types of regulations are on the books, so the only logical conclusion is that there out to be a law against these types of laws, right?  
  2. This sign also helps prove the point about becoming desensitized by information overload.  I did not make it halfway through the statute before my eyes glazed over with boredom and annoyance.  (Also, the fact that this sign has not been defaced makes me wonder about its legitimacy.)


SONG:  "Wonderful" by Everclear

LOOKING FORWARD TO:  Opening Day for the 2010 MLB season tomorrow.  (Sure, the Yankees and Red Sox played tonight, but no one cares about those team, right?  So, the season starts tomorrow).  And it looks like my man Luke Hochevar is going to be the #2 starter for the KC Royals for a while.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite requirement to maintain my daycare license is posting in clear sight, in writing on every phone the phone number for 911. A child could easily choke while Im fumbling for my phone book to look it up. I got a official violation report on that one. (Dont worry Friar Tuck Ive got it posted now.) For those curious its 911. Mom