Monday, June 18, 2012

Every Government Program is Necessary

One of the intriguing things in arguing with both the left and the right is the insistence that, if government is trying to solve a problem, the problem exists.

If we don't make laws against rodent poop in food, taco stores will clearly start making rat poop tacos.

It doesn't even matter if government ever solved the problem - eliminating the attempt will clearly make the problem worse.

Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias described this problem in part as the Status Quo Institution Bias.  What exists is good - otherwise it wouldn't exist.

But the problem comes in with this because the problem that exists isn't necessarily the obvious one.  Your apple butter (if you don't know what this is, try it, it's FANTASTIC) is permitted to be moldy by the FDA.  No, seriously.  Up to 12% of the contents of a container of apple butter may be moldy.  Link.  I can't really taste mold in food, but half my immediate family is hypersensitive to the taste, and can tell immediately if something is even slightly moldy - 12% would be disgusting to them.  Why is 12% the limit?

Well... I don't know.  I've encountered moldy-tasting apple butter (well, my family members noticed) - the store, that evil capitalist Wal-Mart was happy to exchange it for a new one.

What problem does this regulation solve?  It still permits nasty-tasting apple butter.  The store solved the actual problem for us.  The non-obvious problem being solved isn't moldy apple butter, it's people -complaining- about moldy apple butter, and demanding that the government do something about it.

This regulation solves that problem beautifully.  "Look, we've handled it."

So perhaps I'm too harsh on problem solving.  I am forgetting that the problem being solved isn't the problem, it's people complaining about the problem.  Financial regulations weren't enforced against companies?  Issue new financial regulations!  Nevermind that the original ones were already being ignored, just like the new ones - Democrats are happy that Something Is Being Done.  Drug users wandering the streets in a daze?  Issue new laws!  Nevermind that existing drug laws have done nothing to stop drug use.  Republicans are happy that Something Is Being Done.

As for deregulating?  Well, Something Would Be Undone.  The Status Quo would be challenged, and the Status Quo is Always Good.

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