Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Goverment Regulation

Over at Cafe Hayek, there is a posting and comments concerning the impact of airbag regulations on driver/passenger safety... really part of a larger discussion about the role of the government. The argued position was that the Federal government acted too hastily in establishing regulations for airbags and then discovered later that smaller women and children could be injured or killed by the force of the airbag deployment.

Sam's point that a national safety requirement like air bags is particularly harmful when it turns out to produce unintended consequences (killing women and children, initially, because of the power of the airbags). If one state or one manufacturer had made air bags too powerful, we'd have learned from it and fixed it. But more people die when it's nationally mandated.
Given the choice between deploying a technology that was very good, but not perfect and no use or significantly delayed use of that technology... I would argue that many more people were benefitted than harmed by requiring airbags than making them optional.

Why? Safety equipment is expensive and if a manufacturer tried to take on the marketplace alone by installing seatbelts and airbags and safety-related sensors in its vehicles while others did not, it would incur a significant market disadvantage... perhaps a few thousand dollars per vehicle... versus vehicles that did not have those features.

So what? Those who wanted those features could pay for them. True, but the likelihood that those systems would be installed in low-to-mid-priced vehicles would be much less than higher-priced vehicles. Why? Well, just look at the resistence to seatbelt laws. It took years to increase belt usage even when belt installation was required. What did it show? A large portion of the population a) doesn't understand risks, b) doesn't care about risks, c) isn't willing to pay for risk reduction... pick one. People had to be ticketed for not using seat belts before they were willing to do the logical or reasonable thing.

So, then, why should the govenment intrude on our individual choices with regulation? Simple: the marketplace is generally cost-driven. We have been educated to look for the lowest price, not necessarily understand the whole value proposition. And when it comes to safety or the environment, most individuals seem to use the reasoning that if I am responsible and others are not, then I'm not really accomplishing anything. Besides, "what could happen to me? I'm a good driver."

Sometimes the right thing to do is not necessarily the cheapest thing to do. And sometimes, the right thing to do needs a nudge from the government.

You don't believe that? Well, how many of you have or know of someone who has a circular saw without an electric brake? How many of you have or know of someone who has a table saw and who doesn't use the blade fence because it gets in their way?

A comment from a Cafe Hayek reader:
I would not dispute that seat belts make me safer, but I hate that I can be ticketed for not wearing one. I don't even mind paying for tha added safety, but whether or not I use it is MY business.
Sure.... "Stupidity has its own rewards."

Sometimes... it makes sense to have regulations... to require improvements even when the cost per person is high and the risk per person is low.

Can"t Find It?

Use the SEARCH BLOG feature at the upper left. For example, try "Global Warming".

You can also use the "LABELS" below or at the end of each post to find related posts.

Blog Archive

Cost of Gasoline - Enter Your Zipcode or Click on Map

CO2 Cap and Trade

There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
... The Government is on course for an embarrassing showdown with the European Union, business groups and environmental charities after refusing to guarantee that billions of pounds of revenue it stands to earn from carbon-permit trading will be spent on combating climate change.
The Independent (UK)

Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

My photo
Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)