Monday, August 9, 1999

Week of 08/09/1999

Regulate Yourself!
- by David Matthews 2

Turn on the local news, and you’ll probably see some "special investigative report" about something that bugs someone about bad business, or disreputable businessmen and women, or perhaps some honest-to-goodness fraud. And somewhere along there will be the dig by their reporter "And this IS one of those businesses that’s NOT directly overseen by a state agency."


Are we supposed to feel better that yet ANOTHER portion of society supposedly needs to be placed under the microscope of a government agency in the name of regulation? Are we supposed to feel great that 99% of those businessmen who are honest have to fill out yet more paperwork just because of the work of that remaining 1% who decide to operate without any sense of good business practices?

Make no mistake folks, when you decide to regulate a business you aren’t punishing just the unethical businessmen, but you’re also wrongly punishing the ethical businessmen- the ones who slave over their businesses and work hard to make a name for themselves.

Of course, the people who have been shouting the loudest about regulating everything are the people who are considered to be BEYOND regulation; namely the media and the politicians! We can’t talk about regulating the media because they claim First Amendment rights. And we can’t regulate the politicians because WE are supposedly that regulatory body, and we as a society haven’t been able or willing to fix that problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that there are times when some measure of regulation HAS to be enacted. But I believe in those circumstances that regulation has to be the absolute rarest of rare exceptions, never the rule. I also feel that such measures should be there for a LIMITED time only. In other words, there has to be a time when such regulations have to END. No permanent government buildings dedicated to the perpetual regulation of a business. No career bureaucrats with aspirations of being IRS agents looking for any excuse to ruin people’s lives.

But let’s get brutally honest here… there’s no way in Hell that there could be a government regulatory body that is temporary! Government THRIVES on its ability to control your life, and once they get their teeth into your life, they don’t want to give it up! They’ll fight you like ravenous dogs on a T-bone steak, because THAT’S their bread-and-butter!

If you need an example of the addiction government has on your life, just look at how they generate their income through taxing ours.

Did you know that the federal income tax was supposed to be a "temporary" tax? Seriously! The federal income tax was initially sold as a temporary tax, something that was supposed to generate money for a short period of time and then be discontinued. Hasn’t stopped yet, has it? It’s still going strong.

Some communities have one percent local-option sales taxes, enacted by voters on the pretense that the tax is miniscule and temporary. After five years, we’re told, people can vote to remove those taxes. But have you ever seen what happens when voters do just that? The voters in Cobb County, Georgia, did. The voters there voted to end that county’s local-option sales tax, and government threw a collective screaming fit! The way they screamed and shouted and ranted about losing tax money made it sound like their kids were getting gang-raped.

Worse yet, the politicians and the educators and the members of the media insulted the intelligence of the voting public. "Oh, you didn’t mean to do that, did you? It was a mistake, right? You don’t want your kids to start getting an education in mobile homes, do you? That’s what you did.. but that was just an accident, right? You didn’t know what you were doing. You just checked off the wrong box, right?"

So do you know what they did? They had a special election, and those government activists who were screaming bloody murder got the tax reinstated. So much for the myth of a temporary tax.

Of course, government and their supporters will continue to sell regulation off as something that is not really intrusive, and even as something that improves society. They’re just serving as an extra set of eyes to keep businesses in the straight-and-narrow, right?

Well, if that’s the case, I want you to think about what it would be like to have your life regulated by government. I don’t just mean your working life, I mean your ENTIRE life. Every minute of your life under some kind of government scrutiny, having some stranger who presumes to know more than you telling you whether or not you’re making the right personal choices. Someone telling you how much toilet paper you’re using in the bathroom, or telling you how many times you’re chewing your food. Or worse yet, how about having to fill out a REPORT on such things on a regular basis? How about something as mundane as filling out paperwork on the route you take to drive to the store? What did you buy at the store? How much did you pay for each item? Did you get any change back? Did you make any extra stops on the way home?

Sounds like your parents? Not quite, for you see, your parents won’t have you fill out the paperwork in triplicate! And to think, we haven’t even explored what sort of questions the government would ask if it got involved in your interpersonal relations!

But seriously, folks, this is what you expect government to do to businesses when you ask for regulation. Government may be run by some half-assed people, but when it comes to seizing more and more power away from the individual, they don’t do anything half-assed!

Given the choice between two legislative evils - regulation versus an outright ban - I’d have to side with regulation. Local governments are only learning now how profitable gambling is regulated instead of outlawed. The state of Nevada has long enjoyed the regulation of prostitution in certain counties instead of outright bans. Certainly those businesses would thrive and benefit the rest of American society better if they were regulated instead of outlawed.

However, given the choice between regulation versus self-regulation, I’d have to side with self-regulation every time.

When you demand government regulation, you are telling every businessman in that field "I don’t trust you to do business with me!" Now folks, if that’s the case, why are you doing business with them in the first place? It’s one thing if you have to do business with just one company because they’re the only ones dealing in whatever goods you need. The cable companies were like that before the advent of digital satellite. IBM was like that with the computer field before Apple and Compaq. AT&T was like that before they were broken up.

But in places where there is competition, the best way to regulate business is to do it yourself - with your wallet instead of your elected officials. In fact, if you look at the airline industry, you’ll notice that there was more competition and cheaper air fares AFTER the industry was taken off government regulation! Are there still airlines with questionable business practices? Yes there are, but thanks to deregulation, you don’t have to cater to them!

And that, my friends, is one of the dirty little secrets about government regulation - it doesn’t produce real competition that is beneficial to you, the consumer. Rather, it stifles the marketplace, and prevents any kind of competition from starting up!

So folks, if you’re pissed off at a company because their people are jerks and their service is lousy, don’t call your congressmen to complain, call on the competition and let them know exactly why you’re interested in giving them your business. Trust me, you’ll make a bigger impact on the business ethics that way then trying in vain to punish the few who are unethical.

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