It’s become something of a mantra in certain circles that all economic woes are the fault of those evil Republicans and deregulation.
Now, it seemed to me that the fewer regulations that restricted a businessman the better. It seemed to make sense that regulations cost money to comply with, and made it more difficult to put out a product, so therefore the fewer you had to put up with the better.
Besides, like most people, I’m getting a bit tired of being told what I should eat, being forced to put on a seatbelt, told where and when I can smoke (even though I think it's a filthy habit and don’t) and all the minor and not-so-minor restrictions that the government keeps putting on my personal life. Makes sense to me that if there are way too many government intrusions into my personal life, it's got to be worse when you're trying to run a business.
But many on the left think all regulations are good regulations. That businesses won't do the right thing if they're not forced to.
Both of those are false -- well sorta.
First, even hard core conservatives will admit there are such things as good regulations. We tend to think it's a good idea to have unified standards for some things. So we tend to think the Food and Drug Administration, for instance, is a good thing. We do tend to question the length of time it takes to get a drug to market sometimes -- especially when it's been used in other countries for extended periods without trouble. At the same time our lengthy approval process has more than once saved lives when a drug the Europeans just swore was safe turned out not to be. So regulations are not bad in and of themselves.
Where you get into trouble is with something the liberals never seem to understand -- the Law of Unintended Consequences. To quote Wikipedia, "The law of unintended consequences is an adage or idiomatic warning that an intervention in a complex system always creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes."
And therein lies the rub. More often than not when you start interfering in a system such as the economy, which is so complicated no one completely understands how it works, generally the consequences of the interference are going to be something you didn't expect and didn't want.
Take for example the banking crisis. Liberals have loved to blame that on lack of regulation of the banking industry. In reality the roots of the mortgage crisis go back more than 30 years to the Community Reinvestment Act signed into law by then-President Jimmy Carter.
Democrats decided that home ownership was a Good Thing™ and that they should encourage it within inner cities. So the CRA made money available to make loans to people who frankly couldn't afford it. Banks were pretty much required to make the loans. Then they could sell the loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who had to buy them. Therefore the banks themselves had almost no liability. Then it got even more complicated as mortgage-backed securities were authorized and a secondary market arose in buying and selling mortgages. Sometimes the company which wrote your mortgage would not actually own the loan for more than a week or so after it closed. As Fannie and Freddie bought up more and more of these high-risk loans and the economy started to go south, the banking crisis became almost inevitable. And it wasn't actually started by private industry, but by government intervention decades before the problem came to light.
So what it comes down to is conservatives are not against regulation, far from it, but do believe we need to be very careful where the government interferes with regs, because the consequences are very hard to predict and can be catastrophic.
Moreover, every time the government intervenes with a regulation, whether a speed limit or a new banking reg, freedom is reduced because choices are taken away from individuals. The founders understood this and gave us a system which was supposed to limit that intervention. Unfortunately, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have chosen to ignore those limits and the result has been a steady erosion of our liberties -- what the unintended consequences of those actions may be we have yet to see, but I expect they won't be good.
All IMHO, of course.
— Patrick Richardson is the managing editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @PittEditor.