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Blupete's Weekly Commentary

May 6th, 2001.


Though it is intended that regulations should help things they more often do not. The temptation (because of some organized interest group, or other) for politicians is to set standards too high, and, thus, they will not be followed; enforcement becomes expensive and unobtainable. Regulations, for example, in the transportation industry has led to a greater use of private cars. There are many, many more examples1 all over the field of how regulations have had the direct opposite effect of that which was desired; more often than not the untended effect leave matters in a worst position.

James Anthony Froude:

"Men had gone on for centuries trying to regulate trade on moral principles. They would fix wages according to some imaginary rule of fairness; they would fix prices by what they considered things ought to cost; they encouraged one trade or discouraged another, for moral reasons. They might as well have tried to work a steam-engine on moral reasons. The great statesmen whose names were connected with these enterprises might have as well legislated that water should run up-hill. There were natural laws, fixed in the conditions of things; and to contend against them was the old battle of the Titans against the gods."2



1 Anti-drug laws are a perfect example of The Law of Unintended Effect, there are numerous other examples. (Arthur Seldon in his work, Capitalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991) sets out an enlightening list at pp. 164-5.) But, as for anti-drug laws, it can be easily seen that such laws help not a bit; they exacerbate the problem. Never mind that our government is spending our scarce resources on an unwinnable war on drugs: -- anti-drug laws create crime and corruption; they prevent sensible medical use of certain of these drugs; and, most importantly, these laws promote state activity that infringes on our constitutional rights of liberty and privacy. (See one of my earlier commentaries "The War on Drugs.")

2 Froude's essay, "The Science of History."

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Peter Landry

May, 2001 (2019)