Laws came after
A quick lesson in ‘government regulation’
Why in the world should there have to be a law requiring businesses to install sprinklers in case a fire breaks out in their building?
The answer is because if there wasn’t a law, some businesses wouldn’t pay the cost of protecting their employees and customers against fire, and people would die. That is the history. There wasn’t a law, fires broke out in businesses and people died.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the largest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York, causing the death of 146 garment workers who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. It was the worst workplace disaster in New York City until September 11, 2001.
Laws were passed, but even after the laws were passed workers and customers died, because employers didn’t obey the law. So inspectors had to be hired and trained to check on the businesses, and people had to be hired to manage and train the inspectors, and so a bureaucracy was born.
Now we have laws protecting workers and laws protecting consumers. All because some business owners chose not to do the right thing.
Yet there are Americans for whom the words “government regulation” are an obscenity. “Government has no business in business,” they say. “Let the market be free.”
But the history is clear. First came the doing of something harmful, either by design or by negligence. Then came the government regulation aimed at protecting people from the harm.
And it’s not only a recent failing.
In The Trial of Socrates, I.F. Stone tells of the government of ancient Athens prosecuting rice growers, in 400-something B.C., for violating laws prohibiting sellers from conspiring to fix prices.
So 2,400 years ago, people in business were not doing the right thing, and as a consequence, consumers were forced to pay an artificially high price for the goods they wanted. The last thing the rice growers wanted was a free market where they were forced to compete for customers.
So now drugs created by pharmaceutical companies have to pass rigorous government tests before they are allowed to be marketed, because some companies couldn’t be trusted to withhold products until their safety was certain, and people had died.
So now the cement used by building contractors has to meet government standards, some because contractors had used cement that wasn’t strong enough and buildings had collapsed, and people had died.
So now government inspectors have to check the scales in grocery stores to make sure 1 pound of apples is 1 pound of apples, because some grocers had cheated customers.
And on and on and on. Remember: First came the doing of something harmful, either by design or by negligence. Then came the government regulation aimed at protecting people from the harm.
Too much government regulation? Maybe not enough. Check out Wall Street.