Monday, December 7, 2009

Regulations and Lobbyists

A comment to last week's post on "booting" stated:
Properly crafted regulations go a long way towards keeping consumers safe from predatory businesses that are motivated solely by unethical profit seeking.
This is a common justification for government regulation of businesses, and while it might seem plausible to some, the very nature of regulations makes this an impossible goal.

What is a "properly crafted" regulation? While the commenter doesn't tell us, it can only mean one in which every possible situation and action relevant to the object of the regulation is addressed. This would mean anticipating the ingenuity of those who would seek to skirt the law. In short, it requires omniscience on the part of politicians and bureaucrats, which is beyond any human being. The result is that the regulation ultimately falls short of its stated intention, which then is used to justify further regulations to correct the problems created by the first regulations. The "booting" ordinance is only one example.

Businesses that desire to cheat their customers--such businesses are relatively few in number--will find ways to do so, regardless of the mandates and controls dictated by government. The law will not stop a crook.

This does not mean that we should throw up our hands and surrender to the small number of criminals. It doesn't mean that we must passively allow criminals to trample on our rights. It does mean that government must enact objective laws that clearly define what actions do violate individual rights, and then prosecute those who violate those laws.

Some may argue that this is what regulations do--they identify and prohibit those actions that violate rights. Such arguments are naive at best. Regulations do more than simply dictate what can't be done; they dictate what must be done. Through prescription and proscription they prohibit individuals from acting according to their own judgment.

The result is a steady stream of individuals and groups parading before government officials, each declaring that some law or regulation must be enacted or tweaked to to fulfill its agenda. Each declares that its pet project is in the "public interest", and the "common good" requires more controls on the citizenry. At the same time, their intellectual brethren are making similar demands for their pet project.

Consider a Chronicle editorial on Saturday. Decrying the influence of lobbyists in Washington, the paper writes:
[A] lobbyist on a powerful committee can always find clients willing to underwrite his efforts — a process known delicately as “representing a client's interests.” Or, indelicately, as “influence peddling.”
The editorial doesn't address why lobbyists are a problem. It doesn't address the cause of "influence peddling". The cause is the government's power to mandate and dictate, to control and regulate the actions of individuals. So long as government has this power there will be those who seek to use it for their own purposes. So long as government can stick its nose into every nook and cranny of our lives there will be those who seek to influence politicians and bureaucrats.

This is the nature of government regulation. To blame lobbyists, or politicians, or bureaucrats is to ignore the cause of "influence peddling". Certainly they use the system to promote their ideas and agendas; however, the fundamental cause is not the character of those individuals, but the system itself. The fundamental cause is government regulation.


Moataz said...

notice also the statement "unethical profit seeking" as if profits are a bad thing and should be avoided like the plague.

overall a good article and I would say that money influences and power groups having disproportionate influence in politics, is a RESULT of government being too big.

Brian Phillips said...

Yes, those types of subtle wording can be quite revealing.