Re: Government & Public Safety [was Re: kathryn's comments]

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Mon, 13 Sep 1999 14:52:37 -0700 (PDT)

> I believe most licensing is handled locally, so in theory you should
> have the opportunity to correct it locally. Presumably most of this
> is done in the name of public safety...

That's the common /justification/ for licensing laws, but not the usual /reason/ for them. Go through the state code picking out every licensing law, and I'll bet you even money that 80% of them were lobbied for by the licensed industry as a barrier to entry into the market (of course, even those industry reps used the "public safety" excuse for better PR).

> It would appear that a flaw in the libertarian approach is that
> in some cases, the government simply "passing a law" *is* the
> cheapest way to implement something.

But public safety isn't one of those things. Tort liability is so effective at redressing those problems that industries often lobby to have themselves regulated by the government to protect them from civil liability. If anything, tort law is weighed too heavily in favor of safety. Dow Corning, for example, took a huge liability hit for its breast implants despite the fact that the case had absolutely no merit when the scientific facts came out. Juries were more moved by sob stories from sick women than by real evidence. Given that, anyone who actually does make an unsafe product or harms people with a service doesn't stand a chance in court. But if they can hide behind compliance with government regulations, they have natural incentive to take risks within the guidelines and to not implement new safer technologies outside the guidelines.

Here's a prediction you can keep in the archives somewhere: There have been a few more amusement-park accidents than usual in California this year. Amusement park rides are currently not regulated. Within the next two years, legislation will be offered to regulate such rides, and the major players in the industry will lobby for a bill that costs them just enough that it doesn't hurt them much but that will put out of business the small traveling mall-parking-lot carnival rides that /didn't/ have any accidents this year. And when the next accident occurs at a major park, the park will not pay as much in civil damages as they will have to pay this year. All of this will, of course, be supplemented by prime-time coverage of weeping bereaved parents testifying before the legislature how badly these laws are needed for public safety; the arguments of the opposition that laws are unnecessary will not be covered by the news, or else the news will show the small operators who are about to be put out of business testifying to that fact and demonized as evil heartless capitalists.

Homework: watch the "Bear Patrol" episode of /The Simpsons/ for a great political science essay.

Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
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