Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”     Alexis de Tocqueville

August 27, 2007

Licensed To Death

by Doug Mataconis

On Friday, the Reason Foundation released a study on the extent which state regulations have imposed barriers to entry into a mind-numbing variety of professions:

Los Angeles (August 24, 2007) – Do you want to be a fortune teller in Maryland? Your future better include a license from the state. How about being a hair braider in Mississippi? You’ll need 300 to 1,500 hours of training and government permission. Want to sell flowers in Louisiana? Only licensed florists can do that. And almost every state requires certification if you want to move furniture and hang art while calling yourself an interior designer.

The Top Ten:

1. California (177)
2. Connecticut (155)
3. Maine (134)
4. New Hampshire (130)
5. Arkansas (128)
6. Michigan (116)
7. Rhode Island (116)
8. New Jersey (114)
9. Wisconsin (111)
10. Tennessee (110)

Even the lowest-ranked state, Missouri, has a list of 51 professions that it imposes regulatory barriers to entry upon.

Gone are the days when someone could decide to go into business for themselves.

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40 Comments

  1. Dittos from a formerly unlicensed locksmith in Texas. Ouch, that thumb on my head just pushed down on me for commenting.

    Comment by T F Stern — August 27, 2007 @ 11:22 pm
  2. Just think… In a few years, I hope to not only start my own business, I plan to do it in California. Then, considering that it will be a brewery, I’ll have to deal not only with stupid California state laws, I’ll have to deal with stupid state alcohol laws, and probably some federal ATF insanity to go along with it.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — August 28, 2007 @ 1:04 am
  3. Surely we can agree that some professions should be regulated — nobody here would argue that doctors, dentists, or lawyers should not require some sort of licensing. It is certainly true that some licensing schemes cannot be justified in terms of protecting the public. But allow me to point out one area in which there are almost no licensing schemes to protect the public: tax preparation. Right now, with the sole exception of Oregon, any idiot can hang out a shingle declaring him/herself a tax preparer, can take people’s money to do their taxes, and completely bungle the job through incompetence. In such cases, the taxpayer can end up being forced to pay sizable interest and penalties due to the mistakes made by the incompetent tax preparer, and the only recourse to the victim is to sue the tax preparer — who by that time has probably moved on to another state. This is a situation that cries out for licensing, yet has not been addressed by state governments.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — August 28, 2007 @ 1:17 am
  4. its sad to hear that, certificatons and licences are ruling.

    Comment by African American Directory — August 28, 2007 @ 3:29 am
  5. The Institute for Justice has been on the case regarding this topic for many years.

    The question, as correctly noted by Chepe, boils down to the distinction, which I deem legitimate, between “occupations” and “professions.” The former should need no license, but the latter should, for a variety of objectively demonstrable reasons.

    Comment by KipEsquire — August 28, 2007 @ 7:18 am
  6. Chepe and Kip,

    Sure, why not. Because obviously whenever you get screwed over by a tax preparer or a doctor who gives you horrible service the average person will continue to go back to that person again and again because deep down people are too stupid to look out for themselves, people have no tools (like the Internet) for researching the service providers available, and government always does a great job of weeding out the frauds and liars with licensing laws. And obviously, the best way to insure that you don’t keep using the same incompetent doctor or accountant is to create licensing laws so that we have fewer “professionals” to choose from.

    (sarcasm off)

    Someone who provides service is someone who provides service; there is no line between “occupations” and “professions”, nor would government be able to create one competently or objectively. The value of any service is based on the utility it offers to the individual consumer, they cannot be split accurately into economic classes, and the way for consumers to get the best possible value for the service they’re trying to acquire is by removing licensing laws so you have the maximum number of providers to choose from. With licensing laws you simply have fewer options, pay more for them, and have just as good a chance of getting screwed over.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 28, 2007 @ 11:06 am
  7. One idea:

    Self-enforced regulation in the form of membership in professional guilds. The public can be served better by several competing professional guilds. They’ll have their own reputation to protect and they’ll want to minimize regulation to stay competitive.

    Comment by TanGeng — August 28, 2007 @ 11:17 am
  8. TanGeng,

    That’s not a bad idea either. Just as long as the guilds aren’t being set up, run, licensed, or given special protection by the government like unions have been. In that case it’s a free-market solution so the disadvantage to the consumer is minimal.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 28, 2007 @ 11:56 am
  9. UCrawford, you are denying the utility of laws that seek to prevent damage before it is done. To be consistent, you must also reject a whole slew of laws that forbid action that does no harm itself, but is likely to lead to harm. This would include laws regarding drunk driving, insurance requirements, drivers licenses, medical licenses, pharmacist licenses, housing codes, safety requirements for industrial facilities, aircraft, and so forth. If we rely solely on the marketplace to enforce proper behavior, we have no way of dealing with a great many injuries. If a chemical plant with lax safety measures releases a toxic gas cloud that kills thousands as happened at Bhopal, the company goes bankrupt and you shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles!”

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — August 28, 2007 @ 2:00 pm
  10. Chepe,

    Actually, yes…I deny the utility of pretty much all the other laws you mentioned, since I consider the idea of preventative law largely a joke. I do, however, believe in the utility of laws establishing liability (both civil and criminal) as well as the enforcement of property rights, which renders the aforementioned preventative laws and your Bhopal analogy pretty much irrelevant.

    If Union Carbide releases gas into the air around Bhopal, the relatives have every right to sue for reparations resulting from the deaths, the residents who survive have every right to sue for reparations for the damage to their land and property, and the government has every right to prosecute the people responsible in criminal court for the deaths caused by the actions of individuals employed by the company. Same as if pharmacists sold you bad prescriptions, a contractor built a house for you that collapsed, or a drunk slammed into the side of your car…you have legal recourse against people who act irresponsibly which has a greater deterrent effect against fraud, incompetence or malfeasance than licensing laws do. The presence or absence of licensing laws has no relevance on liability, those laws just mean that the consumer has fewer options to choose from. In fact, I’m pretty sure that a lot of the Union Carbide engineers who built and operated the plant were licensed…didn’t stop Bhopal from happening, though, did it?

    Comment by UCrawford — August 28, 2007 @ 2:41 pm
  11. First, your faith in the ability of tort law to protect people ignores four important points:

    1. It is entirely possible for an event to generate damages exceeding the value of the corporation responsible for the event. In such a case, the company goes bankrupt and the victims are uncompensated. Indeed, in the legal regime you favor, the optimum business strategy would be to ignore all safety provisions that protect against catastrophic failures, because such failures would be rare enough that the profits gained would justify the risk taken — because the risk is being borne by outsiders. The only reason that Union Carbide survived the Bhopal accident was that the damages arising from the deaths of thousands were lower in India, because a life there is legally worth less than in the USA. Had a similar accident occurred in the USA (a possibility you refuse to regulate against), the damages would have far exceeded the value of Union Carbide and the victims would not have been compensated.

    2. When the damage imposed by the wrongdoer includes death of the victim, financial compensation is inadequate. Would you be willing to sacrifice your life to a cost-cutting measure at a nearby industrial facility if, in return, your relatives or favorite charity received a payment of, say $1 million?

    3. In many cases the damage inflicted is spread widely over a large number of people and responsibility for damages is not provably traceable to the source. An example here would be a coal-burning power plant, which, without any licensing regulations, would emit pollutants that have been proven to increase the statistical likelihood of lung disease in the neighboring population. However, no individual case of lung disease can be provably assigned to the power plant. Therefore, the owners of the coal plant are able to impose a damage upon the population without being accountable for it.

    4. In some cases, primarily involving small-time crime, the perpetrator is able to evade responsibility by simply moving on. This would be the case with, say, an incompetent tax preparer. Hundreds of people might be injured by his incompetence, but if the perpetrator has flown the coop, their ability to collect damages is minimal.

    Lastly, your analysis of the causes of the Bhopal accident is 180 degrees off the mark. It was the lax regulatory standards in India that made the accident possible. Union Carbide was in compliance with those lax regulations. Such an accident could not have occurred in the USA because the regulatory requirements are stricter here.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — August 28, 2007 @ 3:20 pm
  12. Chepe,

    I don’t disagree with some of what you and Crawford have said about the need for licensing when it comes to certain professions, but sure you will agree that the mere fact of a license is not a guarantee against incompetence ?

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — August 28, 2007 @ 3:28 pm
  13. Yes, of course, the mere fact of a license does not guarantee against incompetence. The trick arises from what it takes to obtain the license. The normal standard is that you have to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the duties to be performed and the skills to perform them, and you must also demonstrate either continuing education (in a profession whose techniques change) or continuing competence. In most cases, the primary requirement is that you pass a test. In safety licensing, inspections of the facilities and documentation of procedural integrity must be provided.

    If the licensing regime is lax, then mistakes will be made.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — August 28, 2007 @ 3:51 pm
  14. Chepe,

    I took a Bar Exam to become an attorney, and I think it’s generally a good thing that someone who is going to hold themselves out as capable of giving legal advice should demonstrate some knowledge of the law.

    But passing the Bar Exam doesn’t guarantee that a lawyers is either ethical or particularly intelligent.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — August 28, 2007 @ 3:54 pm
  15. Doug,

    Actually, I’m opposed to licensing. Kipe was the pro-licensing vote.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 28, 2007 @ 5:12 pm
  16. Sorry, meant “Kip”

    Comment by UCrawford — August 28, 2007 @ 5:13 pm
  17. Chepe,

    Your rebuttal is nonsense and a straw man, mainly because you’re confusing “liability” (holding someone accountable for their actions…which I am in favor of) and “licensing” (creating a barrier to entry in the hope of avoiding the need for liability…which is a futile pipe dream). They are not the same thing.

    1) Your argument here is about liability. When a company causes more damange than they can compensate, it makes no difference whether the business was licensed or not, or whether there were safety regulations in place or not. The problem with Union Carbide wasn’t that there weren’t regulations in place (because there were), it was that the owners of the company chose to ignore those regulations to save costs. They ran a shoddy plant to save costs. They killed people to save costs. They broke the law to save costs. The barrier to entry didn’t stop Bhopal…in fact it probably added to it by increasing the company’s overhead. So what’s your argument on this point? The existence of licensing laws means that people won’t break those laws if they think they can get away with it? That accidents and negligence and bad things won’t happen? Because that’s a bit Pollyanna-ish.

    2) I choose not to die in an industrial accident. If and when I do die in an accident I expect the company to be held accountable and pay for their negligence because their actions caused the death of me (a crime). So what’s your point here? Whether or not they were in compliance with their licenses is beside the point…in fact, if they were in compliance it helps them in their defense.

    3) Pollution is a property rights issue…the polluter is damaging your property. Of course, the burden of proof falls on you establish that damage is being caused to you, same as with any other crime. Irrelevant to licensing, of course because again you’re talking about criminal or civil liability (damage to your property). So, what’s your point here?

    4) Bad example. If you hire a crappy accountant and he fucks up your taxes, yes, it usually sucks for you. Mainly because when you sign your tax return it states that you still bear full responsibility for insuring that it’s accurate and correctly filled out. So what are you trying to say here? That licensing laws insure that crappy accountants don’t exist? Because I’m pretty sure that’s not the case ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Andersen ). FRankly the message I get from your example is that since you’re the one who gets screwed when your licensed accountant makes a mistake (because you sign a document absolving him of responsibility), it’s really your fault for not double-checking his math…or (shudder) actually taking responsibility for doing your own damn taxes. Unless for some reason you think that an absence of licensing laws somehow means that only incompetent accountants will exist and we’ll be forced to use them. Which actually isn’t the case.

    As for Union Carbide and Bhopal…try doing a little research before you accuse me of being wrong ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster ) because it’s pretty obvious that you haven’t…otherwise you’d have noted the non-compliance of Union Carbide with existing regulations and operational negligence (to cut costs), the attempted prosecution of Warren Anderson (stymied by the U.S. government’s apparent apathy towards honoring their extradition treaty with India), and the fact that Union Carbide paid a $470 million settlement to the residents of Bhopal (which pretty much put the company under). Of course, none of this supports your pro-licensing argument because regulation and licensing were in place in India and the company just chose to ignore it. What you’ve got a problem with is the lack of liability for Union Carbide, which isn’t the fault of the free market…it’s the fault of the government for letting Union Carbide (and their executives) off the hook for causing the deaths and injuries of several thousand people. Whether or not they were licensed is beside the fact.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 28, 2007 @ 5:56 pm
  18. Dear dear, so many problems here. Let’s see…

    “because you’re confusing “liability” (holding someone accountable for their actions…which I am in favor of) and “licensing” (creating a barrier to entry in the hope of avoiding the need for liability…which is a futile pipe dream). They are not the same thing.”

    No, I am contrasting your approach, which relies on post-incident liability litigation, with the licensing approach, which attempts to prevent injurious events. My point is that post-incident liability litigation often fails to provide justice.

    “When a company causes more damange than they can compensate, it makes no difference whether the business was licensed or not”

    Indeed. That’s why we license and check them BEFOREHAND. The whole idea is that the licensing regime will detect problems BEFORE they become disasters. That’s the whole point and purpose of licensing. Yes, if you set up a licensing regime incompetently, it won’t do anybody any good. If you do ANYTHING incompetently, it won’t do anybody any good!

    “The problem with Union Carbide wasn’t that there weren’t regulations in place (because there were), it was that the owners of the company chose to ignore those regulations”

    Could you cite the regulations that Union Carbide violated at Bhopal? The reference you give specifies a great many mistakes, but does not address the licensing regime in place at Bhopal. Clearly, had the facility undergone appropriate safety inspections as part of its license, the disaster would have been avoided. You’re condemning licensing because it WASN’T carried out. That makes no sense.

    “The existence of licensing laws means that people won’t break those laws if they think they can get away with it?”

    Yep, people try to skirt the law all the time. That’s why licensing laws are useless without regulatory oversight. You send inspectors into the plant on a regular basis to verify that the facility is in compliance with the regulations. Fire departments inspect business premises all the time, and issue citations to businesses that violate the building codes. That’s part of the licensing regime. You are claiming that a licensing regime that is incompetently implemented doesn’t work, therefore all licensing regimes should be eliminated. That makes no sense.

    You don’t seem to get my point that financial compensation to the relatives of victims of an industrial accident doesn’t do the victim any good.

    You ask what my point is in the case of statistically enhanced death rates due to widely dispersed pollutants. My point is that, as you point out, there is no way to provably assign liability for any of those deaths individually, giving the polluter a blank check to pollute and impose health costs upon the population. This is not justice.

    You make a common error in attacking licensing laws because they fail to stop all crimes. Should we dispose of drunk driving laws because some people continue to drive drunk and kill innocents? Of course not! The laws don’t achieve perfection, they reduce the incidence of injury. A licensing regime for tax preparers doesn’t guarantee that every single tax preparer is infallible, but it does weed out a lot of incompetents, thereby reducing the overall injury to society. That’s the benefit.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — August 28, 2007 @ 7:04 pm
  19. Chepe,

    “I am contrasting your approach, which relies on post-incident liability litigation, with the licensing approach, which attempts to prevent injurious events. My point is that post-incident liability litigation often fails to provide justice.”

    And my point is that licensing does not prevent injurious events, often it contributes to them, and it’s usually inaccurate, unnecessary or just plain ridiculous. Companies don’t intentionally release toxic gases over villages because they don’t have licenses. They don’t kill people just for the hell of it or because they’re evil. These events usually happen by accident, and/or because the costs of doing business (which includes the start-up costs of licensing and the costs of regulatory compliance) exceed the profit the company can pull in on their product so the company has to cut back on overhead to remain solvent. The first place this happens is often workplace safety (as with Bhopal). And this usually happens because a) the punitive measures for liability in place are usually less threatening to the company than the threat of bankruptcy, b) because insufficient government oversight is the norm, and c) government oversight will always lag behind private enterprise’s ability to get around it because government is incapable of adapting itself to every conceivable situation (so every licensing regime is ultimately incompetently administered. You want to push for increasing punitive measures against companies that pollute and cause damage to life and property? Fine…that’s a rational solution. You want to rework the laws to hold officers of corporations criminally liable when their actions result in their companies killing people? Great, I’m all for it. You want to create additional licensing and regulation with the idea that it’ll stop events like Bhopal? All you’ll get are more taxes for us to pay for oversight (which will get higher with the more regulation we create), higher compliance costs for companies (which creates greater overhead for the company, higher prices and worse service for consumers, and a higher chance of insolvency for companies) and you’ll increase the chances that events like Bhopal will happen as companies try to save costs where they can by cutting back on services where they hope no one is looking. Same principal applies to any business, from accountants to multinational conglomerates.

    Punitive measures are the only way to address events like Bhopal. “Preventative” regulation that will stop events like Bhopal is a pipedream of moron socialists who think that government can somehow fix all the problems of the world if we just pump enough money into it and put the “right” people in charge…despite all human history to the contrary.

    And “justice”? What exactly would consist of justice to you in regards to Bhopal? Hitting the company with costs so high that they cease independent operation? That happened…Union Carbide went under. Dragging the CEOs in front of a court so they can stand trial for what they did? The only reason Warren Anderson didn’t stand trial was because the government you seem to think we should trust with oversight didn’t enforce the laws they had in place so he could be extradited, so go take it up with them for not holding the CEO responsible (which they should have). Beyond extraditing Anderson, there’s nothing left that would constitute “justice”…the people in Bhopal are dead, Union Carbide gave them all the money they had, the company’s gone, and all the regulations in the world won’t bring the dead back to life, nor will they prevent another such event from happening. So go ahead…define what would constitute “justice” in your opinion.

    P.S. Drunk driving laws as your shining example of success in licensing? Because they’ve done such a good job of eliminating all drunk drivers, right? So what are you saying…if a guy gets drunk and kills a family of six there’d be no way to punish him if we didn’t have drunk driving laws? He couldn’t be punished for murder or manslaughter or homicide…preventative laws are all that’s stopping him? Your examples suck.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 28, 2007 @ 10:00 pm
  20. UCrawford, you appear to be claiming that government enforcement of safety measures by means of onsite inspections is doomed to failure. I remind you that such inspections are carried out thousands of times every day, with the simplest and humblest being inspections of building safety carried out by the fire department. Yep, occasionally some safety violations slip through the net. But you argue that these inspections can never work when in fact we have literally tons of paperwork attesting to their efficacy.

    You continue to insist that preventative measures are a ‘pipe dream’. Yet you need only look around you to see the success of such measures: the trucking industry, with regular inspections of trucks and their drivers by government authorities. The aircraft industry, where strict safety measures imposed by the government are in place. The nuclear industry, where the extremely strict safety measures in place have yielded an excellent safety record.

    You argue that drunk driving laws are unnecessary because somebody who injures others is criminally liable. If that were the case, then the imposition of drunk driving laws should have had no effect upon traffic fatalities. However, the data on this are clear: since 1982, traffic deaths arising from alcohol-related accidents have declined from about 25,000 per year to about 17,000 per year — that’s 8,000 lives saved per year — and the primary factor at work is the spread of drunk driving laws.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — August 28, 2007 @ 10:36 pm
  21. Chepe,

    I’m claiming that allowing safety measures to be carried out by the companies themselves and limiting government oversight to laws that punish only those who harm life or property are far more effective and costs us less (in prices, taxes, and government spending). I’m also claiming that leaving it in the hands of the companies lowers the barriers to entry and allows more diversity and competition in the market, which is a better way to improve companies’ performance than the best-written government regulation.

    Trucking industry regulation: And what precisely are the benefits of regulating the trucking industry to me? If we don’t have weigh-in stations, are truckers going to start running me off the road and refusing to deliver goods? I’ll tell you what the disadvantages are…longer delivery times, more tax money spent on inspectors, and higher costs for me. What’s the upside?

    Airline industry: you mean the industry that makes me go through two hours of security checks to get on a plane, overcharges me for tickets for a cramped overcrowded plane because of their overhead, frequently delays or cancels my flights and loses my bags, and who have made life in the air so fucking unbearable that I can’t stand flying if my destination is less than 12 hours by car? You mean the airline industry who the government had to give a multi-billion dollar bail out to in 2001 because the regulation has made them so unprofitable? You mean that airline industry? Again, where’s the benefit to me in all this regulation? Unless you’re claiming that without regulation the airline industry plans on intentionally crashing planes, this is your worst example yet.

    The nuclear industry: You mean the nuclear industry regulations that have insured that not a single nuclear plant has been built since 1973 despite a rapidly increasing demand for energy? You mean the regulations that insure bullshit like this ( http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11005719/ )? You mean the regulations that have effectively taken nuclear power off the table as a potential substitute for carbon-emitting coal plants? I take it back…this is your worst example yet.

    So for the drunk driving laws, is the drop a result of more preventative laws, or a result of harsher punitive measures? No idea…all your link does is cite numbers and declare that it’s because of drunk driving laws with nary a shred of specific proof to establish causation. Nor do they make a distinction between preventative laws and punitive laws. Which are more effective? Which are measureable? Did they even bother to measure or make a distinction? Judging from what I read in the sidelinks, I doubt it.

    And color me skeptical about the preventative benefits of laws whose primary means of detection rely on bullshit like this:

    http://www.duianswer.com/library/are-field-sobriety-te.cfm

    And which are enforced by assholes like this:

    http://www.reason.com/blog/show/117173.html

    Of course, your friends at MADD also thought this guy was okay too, so who am I to question their objectivity?

    http://www.reason.com/blog/show/120843.html

    Comment by UCrawford — August 28, 2007 @ 11:18 pm
  22. UCrawford, you appear to be claiming that government enforcement of safety measures by means of onsite inspections is doomed to failure.

    Not complete failure, but yes, overall a failure.

    I remind you that such inspections are carried out thousands of times every day, with the simplest and humblest being inspections of building safety carried out by the fire department. Yep, occasionally some safety violations slip through the net. But you argue that these inspections can never work when in fact we have literally tons of paperwork attesting to their efficacy.

    If you buy a million lottery tickets, you’re bound to win some. That doesn’t mean your decision was correct. Likewise, it is the position of UCrawford and I that such preventative measures are not worth the total cost they impose on society.

    You continue to insist that preventative measures are a ‘pipe dream’. Yet you need only look around you to see the success of such measures: the trucking industry, with regular inspections of trucks and their drivers by government authorities. The aircraft industry, where strict safety measures imposed by the government are in place. The nuclear industry, where the extremely strict safety measures in place have yielded an excellent safety record.

    Cite counterexamples where a lack of inspections led to a corresponding decrease in safety and that paragraph might mean something.

    This isn’t a matter of black and white. We’re weighing the costs and benefits of two different approaches.

    You argue that drunk driving laws are unnecessary because somebody who injures others is criminally liable. If that were the case, then the imposition of drunk driving laws should have had no effect upon traffic fatalities. However, the data on this are clear: since 1982, traffic deaths arising from alcohol-related accidents have declined from about 25,000 per year to about 17,000 per year — that’s 8,000 lives saved per year — and the primary factor at work is the spread of drunk driving laws.

    In that same time period seatbelt usage has increased, air bags were invented and then became standard, anti-lock brakes were invented and then became standard, and cars were designed to absorb impact without damaging the cabin. There have been MANY significant safety improvements in the past 25 years (most of them were provided by the free market, btw). You have a loooong way to go if you want to demonstrate that drunk drive laws are a factor at all, let a lone the “primary” factor.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — August 28, 2007 @ 11:21 pm
  23. Jeff,

    Well put.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 29, 2007 @ 1:01 am
  24. “…and that’s why Ron Paul will never be president.”

    Comment by Buckwheat — August 29, 2007 @ 1:33 am
  25. “(As much as I like Ron Paul, and respect his ideas)”

    Comment by Buckwheat — August 29, 2007 @ 1:35 am
  26. Mr. UCrawford and Mr. Molby, the comments you offer are replete with logical errors. For example, Mr. UCrawford attacks the safety of the airline industry by citing its losing his bags — not a particularly logical line of thought. He continues with this irrelevant line of reasoning through several paragraphs.

    “And what precisely are the benefits of regulating the trucking industry to me?”
    Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that truck accidents often lead to injury or to people other than the truckers. To give one example, I would suggest that you consult the matter of the truck accident in Oakland that destroyed part of the freeway exchange leading to the Bay Bridge, leading to losses in the millions of dollars. This was just one truck accident. The costs of that accident are borne by taxpayers like you and me. Preventing more accidents like this is the benefit of trucking regulations.

    Both you and Mr. Molby fail to understand the meaning of the statistics offered in the link I provided. What’s important is that the number of alcohol-related fatalities RELATIVE TO the overall number of fatalities has fallen. This allows us to identify specific measures against drunken driving as the source of the benefit.

    Mr. Molby asks me to “Cite counterexamples where a lack of inspections led to a corresponding decrease in safety and that paragraph might mean something.” Easily done: take, for example, the Soviet nuclear industry, which was not as closely regulated as the American nuclear industry. They had an accident at Chernobyl some years back, the costs of which are estimated to run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Or consider the regulatory regime for chemical plants in India, which again is not as strict as that in the USA. They had an accident at Bhopal that killed many thousands of people. In places where the regulatory regime is weak, more and deadlier accidents happen than in places where the regulatory regime is strong.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — August 29, 2007 @ 3:16 am
  27. Buckwheat,

    People are trying to have an intelligent conversation about a real issue, don’t be a moron.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — August 29, 2007 @ 5:37 am
  28. Chepe,

    The entire Soviet economy and industrial sector (to include their nuclear power plants) was more heavily regulated than the U.S. because THEY WERE A FUCKING SOCIALIST COUNTRY AND IT WAS A GOVERNMENT-OWNED REACTOR!!! Here’s a link disproving everything in your Chernobyl argument ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster ). If you want to make credible attacks against our arguments, do some actual research (finding this link took me about 30 seconds and five minutes to read) and quit making things up…because the deeper you go into this the more apparent it is you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    So your truck example, when did it happen? I have no idea because you haven’t bothered to include a link or any actual details, which makes this smell like another of your misinterpreted anecdotes. Did it happen recently, while the trucking industry was already regulated? In which case your example proves my point that regulation doesn’t prevent accidents from happening. Or did it occur before regulation? Are you actually claiming that with regulation traffic accidents won’t ever happen? Are you claiming that without regulation truck drivers will intentionally cause more accidents? And what were the punitive measures in place that were exercised after the accident occured? Was the driver uninsured? Aside from fixing the road, what were the costs that the state was eating? Citing obscure and unsubstantiated examples off the top of your head is not the same as providing empirical evidence to counter someone else’s position in a debate.

    And Union Carbide again? The company had an accident, they were found liable and they paid a settlement large enough to put them out of business. What more do you think should have been done? Putting the CEO in jail? That hasn’t happened only because the U.S. government apparently won’t extradite him…so that’s not on the Indian government. What else do you think should have been done?

    Comment by UCrawford — August 29, 2007 @ 8:32 am
  29. Here’s a question to change the tenor of the debate a bit…if we didn’t have the government providing their crappy version of regulatory oversight for free, would a private industry or voluntary organizations within the industry arise to police the producers for consumers with profit in mind (like TanGeng’s guild suggestion)? Does the absence of government “preventative” laws (but not punitive laws) mean that all quality control would disappear?

    Comment by UCrawford — August 29, 2007 @ 9:41 am
  30. And my quip about losing bags was meant to illustrate that not only does regulation not stop plane crashes or hijacking from happening, but that it also means more inefficient or incompetent service for me on the planes that don’t crash (since extra security checks often mean my luggage won’t make the plane), all of which makes flying a miserable experience that I try to repeat as little as possible, thereby depriving the airline of my business.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 29, 2007 @ 1:05 pm
  31. Mr. UCrawford, you are confusing economic regulation with safety regulation. Perhaps you are unaware of the safety regime regarding nuclear reactors in the Soviet Union at the time of Chernobyl. In the first place, the Chernobyl reactor was a graphite moderated reactor — a design that is not approved for power reactors in Western countries because of a number of problems associated with graphite as a moderator, most notably its ability to provide neutron moderation in the absence of coolant. The even greater difference — a gigantic one — is that the Chernobyl reactor didn’t have a containment structure. The licensing regimes in all western countries include very strict requirements for a containment structure capable of handling a great deal of pressure. The Chernobyl reactor had no containment structure. (The containment structure is big dome you see at nuclear power plants.)

    Sorry I didn’t provide a link to the Oakland accident — I considered it common knowledge because it was on the front pages of newspapers all over the country. The accident occurred on April 29th. Here’s a link.

    “Are you actually claiming that with regulation traffic accidents won’t ever happen?”
    Here you repeat (for the fourth time, I believe) the logical error of rejecting a solution because it does not achieve perfection.

    “Are you claiming that without regulation truck drivers will intentionally cause more accidents?”
    No, I am claiming that, without regulation, truck drivers will take greater risks that will result in a higher frequency of accidents.

    “Aside from fixing the road, what were the costs that the state was eating?”
    I don’t know. If you examine the photograph in the link I provided, you can see that the cost had to be substantial. Moreover, nobody ever toted up the costs to all the people who were unable to do their business because of the snarled up traffic that ensued for the weeks following the accident.

    On Union Carbide, you seem to be suggesting that the compensation paid has righted all wrongs and that all is well now. I don’t agree. I think that the people of Bhopal (who are STILL dying at the rate of about 1 per day from this accident) are worse off now than they were before the accident. I would have preferred that the accident never happened. Wouldn’t you?

    You suggest that perhaps a private approach to this problem would produce better results than a government approach. There are in fact a number of private condominia such as you describe (various “green tags” attesting to the environmental benignity of the product are examples). However, such approaches work only when the customer’s relationship with the private concern is strictly voluntary, and when the existence of such vetting condominia is widely known. If I walk into a tax preparer’s office and 1) see a certificate on the wall attesting to the tax preparer’s competence and 2) recognize the source of the certificate as a reliable organization, then and only then does such an arrangement work. But such conditions are rare. First, few people will be aware of private certification organizations and will not be able to assess their reliability. Second, and much more important, many safety relationships are involuntary. I don’t have a voluntary contractual relationship with the trucking company whose truck is in the lane next to mine on the freeway. If that truck or its driver malfunction, I can be killed and the existence of a private certification company has no relevance to that fact.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — August 29, 2007 @ 2:45 pm
  32. I have made three attempts to respond here, but none of them have appeared. Is this a technical problem or have I been banished?

    Comment by Chepe — August 30, 2007 @ 4:28 pm
  33. Chepe:

    It’s probably a technical thing; you’ve probably been picked up by our spam filter. Sometimes this happens– its even happened to me and I’m a contributer.

    I’m sure Doug will look into this once he reads your comment. We only block people if commenters are being abusive towards other commenters. Even then we usually don’t block that person. It’s pretty much up to the post’s author’s discretion.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — August 30, 2007 @ 5:12 pm
  34. It was a technical problem Chepe. As you can see, your first comment is up before your last.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — August 30, 2007 @ 6:08 pm
  35. Chepe,

    I’m not confusing the two…your Chernobyl comparison was not just ridiculous, it proved my point. You’re trying to claim that the reason we don’t have meltdowns like Chernobyl in the U.S. (although you’ve forgotten Three Mile Island apparently) is because we have regulation and the Soviets didn’t. But the reactors in the U.S. are privately-owned, and the reactors in the Soviet Union were government-owned. So additional regulation would have had no effect in the Soviet Union because the government was already overseeing the operation of the plant…BECAUSE THEY OWNED IT!!! A person who is trying to be diplomatic would say that your example can be simply dismissed as apples-to-oranges because you’re attempting to compare the track record of government-owned companies with the track record of privately-owned companies. A less diplomatic person would go further and point out the fact that by continuing to stick with this analogy you’re demonstrating that you don’t understand the difference between socialism and free enterprise, or why private ownership and profit motive create an incentive to improve efficiency and performance on their own, nor does it appear that you understand that Chernobyl is a textbook example of how preventative regulation (a socialist standard) is inherently flawed. If socialist countries aren’t capable of competently enforcing regulation on businesses that they own, why on earth would anyone with half a brain think that governments would do a better job of regulating privately-owned companies that have a vested interest in cutting corners wherever possible to maintain profit? Punitive measures work and they don’t punish people who act responsibly…preventative measures are a waste of money for a negligible payoff, and they punish the responsible more than the irresponsible (since the irresponsible would be more prone to ignore regulation and reap the financial benefits of doing so). Do I really have to explain the difference between capitalism and socialism, or are you simply one of those guys who never figured out that socialism an inherently flawed and impossible-to-implement economic ideology?

    Your article on the Oakland truck accident didn’t say a thing about trucking industry regulation. It did however, discuss the problems with our nation’s roads…roads which are maintained and built by federal and state governments. Are you saying that the problem here is the government’s not doing a good enough job of holding itself accountable on road building? Because I’d agree…the government almost always does a shit job of holding itself accountable. So why would I think more regulation would mean better roads when the government was already the party responsible for insuring they were built and maintained correctly in the first place?

    I don’t reject your proposals on preventative measures because they’re an imperfect solution. I reject them because they’re not a solution at all…they’re part of the problem. They’re expensive, they’re ineffective, they stifle innovation and inhibit the free market, and all they provide us with is the illusion of safety. Not worth the trade, thanks.

    Sure, I would have preferred that Bhopal never happened. I’d prefer that car accidents never happen either, or that murders never happen, or that people never screw up and do stupid things. But they do, and they will, no matter how much you regulate, just like things like Bhopal will occasionally happen no matter how much you regulate. And this is because a) people and nature are often irrational and unpredictable so it is impossible to create a perfect world in which unexpected or tragic events do not occur, and b) people will ignore regulations when they think they can get away with it (which some always will) if there’s an incentive for them to do so. Neither of those problems can be eliminated by more regulation…all that will achieve is to punish the innocent along with the guilty in the hopes of achieving the impossible. The only way the government can hope to minimize the risks that bad event occur without screwing over those who don’t deserve it is by holding individuals accountable after they do intentionally irresponsible things that get people killed or cause damage. Like exporting the CEO of Union Carbide for trial in India (which the government still hasn’t done). And no, the reparations for Bhopal probably weren’t enough to make up for what happens. But then again, they never are for tragedies like that. And that wouldn’t change with more preventative regulation either.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 30, 2007 @ 7:27 pm
  36. Chepe,

    And there’s no difference between economic regulation and safety regulation, because all regulations, actions, or incentives are in one way or another economic in nature. “Safety” regulations don’t occur in a vacuum, there is always some economic impact as a result of them. Usually bad, when they’re preventative in nature.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 30, 2007 @ 7:50 pm
  37. My thanks go to Mr. Littau for resolving the technical problem that interfered with earlier attempts at commenting.

    Mr. UCrawford, your lengthy comments on the relative merits of socialism and capitalism are irrelevant to the issue before us — which concerns the merits of licensing regimes. The licensing regime under which Chernobyl was operated was considerably more lax than the licensing regime under which American nuclear plants operate. The stricter licensing regime that applies to American plants prevents accidents like the one at Chernobyl from happening here. I consider that a benefit.

    True, the article on the Oakland accident doesn’t discuss trucking industry regulation. You had questioned whether trucking accidents were of any concern to people other than truckers. This accident provides my answer.

    You declare that prevention of accidents does nothing to prevent accidents. I need not point out the absurdity of this claim. You compound the absurdity by maintaining that accidents are unavoidable, that there is nothing we can do to prevent accidents. I disagree; I believe that taking precautions reduces the likelihood of accidents. I fear, however, that we shall have to agree to disagree on this point.

    Finally, you assert that there is no difference between economic regulation and safety regulation. I believe that regulation that is intended to reduce accidents is distinguishable from regulation that is intended to control monetary flows. Again, I suspect that we must agree to disagree on this point.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — August 31, 2007 @ 2:17 am
  38. Chepe,

    1) Licensing and regulation are socialism creeping into the economy, your example was from a socialist country, so socialism vs. capitalism is central to the discussion. Regulations have a negative economic impact. They don’t offer sufficient utility to us for the cost. And Chernobyl happened while the government (who you think should be responsible for enforcing regulation) was at the switch. Seriously, what are you not getting about this?

    2) No, I had questioned whether trucking regulations were of value to anyone, including truckers. My point was that trucking regulations have little, if any, positive impact on truckers or the number of trucking accidents. Companies already have a vested interest in hiring competent truckers because incompetent truckers don’t deliver their goods.

    3) No, I declared that regulation does little to nothing to prevent accidents and cause a negative economic impact. You’ve never demonstrated or provided evidence that they work effectively…you’re just operating under the unquestioning assumption that they do. So yes, we’ll have to agree to disagree because I don’t accept arguments of faith when it comes to analyzing costs. Taking precautions does minimize risks…and the overwhelming majority of private companies would take precautions without regulation because there’s rarely (if ever) an significant benefit for them to operate in a manner that will inevitably kill several thousand people (who are potential customers). The use of punitive laws against those who act irresponsibly further reduces the benefit of doing so without punishing those who act in a responsible manner. This wasn’t done to the CEO of Union Carbide, who ordered the safety cutbacks, so he was able to get away with what he did. That’s the true travesty of Bhopal.

    4) Safety regulation also affects monetary flows because it interferes with the ability of individuals/companies/private enterprise to act towards what they perceive to be their own best interests by allowing government to redirect the invisible hand of the free market. It doesn’t matter if regulation targets monetary flow directly, regulation is regulation (safety or otherwise), and preventative regulation has a negative economic impact.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 31, 2007 @ 10:59 am
  39. Well, Mr. UCrawford, I think we’re going around in circles, so I’ll make a final statement and give you the last word. First, I reject your claim that all regulation is a form of socialism. Regulations are just a form of law; law is not the same thing as socialism. There have been laws and safety regulations since early times. There were a number of safety regulations in classical Athenian law, and quite a few in classical Roman law, and I don’t think anybody seriously considers classical economies to have been socialist.

    Your logic on the value of safety regulations for trucking corporations overlooks the costs imposed upon the public by trucking accidents. If a trucking company considers only its own costs, then there is a tradeoff between the benefits of faster delivery and the costs of accidents, and since many of the costs of accidents are borne by others, the trucking company has an economic incentive to find a tradeoff that favors its own economic interests at the expense of others.

    You claim that regulation does little or nothing to prevent accidents. This is patently absurd. Do you seriously believe that denying drivers licenses to people with poor eyesight (to give just one example) fails to prevent accidents?

    Again, your confidence that companies will take all necessary safety measures in their own self-interest fails to take into account the factors that make their self-interest diverge from the interests of the public at large. As I pointed out, the bankruptcy laws provide shelter from the consequences of a major accident. I should think that historical experience would by itself be sufficient to convince you otherwise. The long and tragic record of industrial accidents clearly demonstrates that companies do NOT take adequate safety measures, especially when they do not bear the cost of the risks they impose upon the public.

    Finally, you insist that safety regulations are indistinguishable from economic regulations because they have an economic effect. Yes, and laws against murder also have an economic effect. Does this mean that laws against murder are just another form of socialism?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — August 31, 2007 @ 11:38 am
  40. Chepe,

    I should have specified that “preventative” regulation is a form of socialism. I accidentally dropped “preventative” in the edit, for which I apologize. Punitive regulation is simply law specifically targeted at irresponsible individuals who cause harm to others. That I have no problem with, my problem is with preventative laws. And I consider all preventative laws to be ultimately futile and cost-inefficient, regardless of who practiced them.

    Punitive regulation targets trucking companies that act irresponsibly and removes the benefits of doing so. Preventative laws create an incentive to act irresponsibly by imposing a cost on companies for often unnecessary regulation which raises their overhead and shrinks their profit margin…thereby creating an incentive to skirt safety regulations where they think the government won’t notice and where they think it will do the least harm. I am not advocating the removal of punitive regulation. I believe companies should be held accountable when they do irresponsible things. How many times do I have to repeat this before you get it? I just don’t believe in punishing people before they’ve done irresponsible things, or in futilely attempting to make a perfect world by the creation of utopian preventative laws, many of which are unenforceable and cause many of the problems you hope to avoid.

    I believe that allowing drivers with poor eyesight to drive allows them to do things like go to the store to buy food, hold a job, travel where they need to when they need to. And I believe that punishing them when they cause an accident creates a financial incentive for them to act responsibly and limit the risks they generate without cutting off a key means of survival. Is it your position that all people with bad eyesight should barred from an essential means of travel…especially, say, those who live in rural areas where public transportation or a friendly neighbor aren’t available? Because frankly, telling people they have to sit in their home in poverty and starve to death because they have a disability seems rather cold of you.

    Actually, I’m against bankruptcy laws too…I don’t believe the law should be used to protect people from their debts anymore than I believe the law should be used to punish people who haven’t done anything irresponsible. Hell, I could probably be convinced to support bringing back debtor’s prisons for people who don’t like paying their bills. And yes, I believe the overwhelming majority of companies will take all the necessary safety precautions to insure that they operate safely and responsibly. Especially if there is punishment in place for people who do things that cause death, injury, or damage. Like I said, punitive laws are designed to punish only the guilty. Preventative laws punish everyone. And the long history of industrial accidents you refer to (again, without substantiation) basically proves they don’t do a great job of stopping accidents either.

    And this tired little gem:

    “Finally, you insist that safety regulations are indistinguishable from economic regulations because they have an economic effect. Yes, and laws against murder also have an economic effect. Does this mean that laws against murder are just another form of socialism?”

    Laws against murder are punitive laws, not preventative ones, because they punish someone who has committed a crime against another person, depriving him of life. The sentence the criminal receives (and the civil judgments that sometimes follow) are a means of reparation. AGAIN, I’m okay with this because I don’t have a problem with punitive action. And if this is the best example that you can come up with to dispute my point it’s probably a good thing that you’re giving me the last word, because basically you’ve just demonstrated that on this topic you have nothing left in your repertoire but straw man fallacies, and therefore nothing valid left to say.

    Comment by UCrawford — August 31, 2007 @ 12:28 pm

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