The problem with demanding regulation on the cheap
(originally posted to facebook on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at 3:38pm)
The following was a comment made on a thread where people were demanding regulation of the meat industry. One of the comments suggested I should eat some ‘unregulated meat’ and get sick.
Me: Well, seeing as how I procure my own food as often as possible, good luck on that one! Besides, if you pay attention to who you buy from and how they do business (this sticky little thing I’ve mentioned before called ‘taking responsibility’) you don’t need regulations. He who sells me food that makes me sick, never sells me food again.
Imagine if you will three scenarios (we live in a mixture of 1 and 2 now)
Scenario 1: Customer goes to store, plops down money for meat. Customer buys whatever meat is most affordable. Lacking significant regulation, the producer sees a demand for low priced meat. Producer churns out as much high demand, low priced meat as possible to make the biggest profit. Customer ultimately gets lower quality meats. Customer eventually gets sick from low quality meat. Customer got what they paid for!
Scenario 2: Customer cries to government to regulate their meat. Government slaps tons of regulations on producers. Customers still just slap down money for meat feeling assured that the government is ‘protecting’ the quality of said meat. Customer still tries to buy the cheapest meat they can find. Producer sees high demand for low price meat. Producer monitors production not for quality but for minimum adherence to the plethora of regulations. Customer gets minimum legal quality meat. Customer eventually gets sick from low quality meat. Customer gets what they cried for.
Scenario 3: Informed consumer seeks to buy a specific quality of meat. Said customer stays on top of information about the producers their seller is buying from. Customer demands only top quality meat and is willing to pay a little more to get it. Producer sees demand for ‘quality’ meat. Producer monitors meat production to meet the demand for quality. Customer gets tasty num nums! Customer is happy, producer is happy, seller is happy – government can go fuck off!
Which would you rather live in?
As an added note on this one – I’ve spoken to other people on the nature of ‘free markets’ including a recent discussion on such regulation in the auto industry and goods at Walmart.
There are a couple of common responses that I hear to arguments like this. In that discussion, one of the responses was in regards to an example raised regarding the requirement placed on automakers to include safety restraints in cars. The question was, ‘what if my friend buys a car with no seatbelts and I need to ride in his car? Are you saying I need to choose better friends???”
My short answer to him was “YES!!!! THAT’S THE POINT!” In other words, it should not be society’s or government’s responsibility to make choices for you or to protect you from the consequences of YOUR OWN choices. That includes getting into a car that has no seatbelts!!!
The longer answer included pointing out that “choosing better friends” is not the only option. You could offer to drive. You could choose not to get in. And, if you aren’t a puss, you would tell your friend ‘why’ you choose not to get in or why you are going to drive with your car (because it ‘has’ seatbelts) and hit him up for a share of the gas money. If it is really that important to you, and your friend remains belligerent as to your safety or puts up a fuss as to your choice not to ride in his vehicle and to require him to ‘pay’ to ride in yours, are you really going to want such a person as a friend?
The other argument is in regards to ‘who has the time?‘ As in, who has the time to track all the companies you buy from? The reality is, we don’t. For most things, the necessity of watching every company behind every purchase we make is way too daunting. But that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise responsibility as often as you possibly can for your more important or more regular buying choices.
My response to this was coupled with a response to another question poised earlier in the discussion asking how a free market addresses ‘new’ needs or desires. The actual question is ‘where do these [new companies] come from? Out of the ‘ether’?’
At this point, I commented “As I stated earlier, the market abhors a vacuum. If there is a need for a product or service, people interested in profit will try to fill those needs. People interested in ‘profit’ will fill any and all needs they are able to fill as often as possible. Not out of the ether, but because not all people are stupid! And people who wish to succeed in a free market need to be smart.”
I then scribbled down the url to http://www.angieslist.com and handed it to him. “Here you go,” I said. To which he asked ‘what is this?’ I responded, “It’s one of those companies that magically appeared out of the ‘ether‘ to fulfill a new market need for people like you who say they don’t have the time to keep track of businesses they solicit for goods and services.”