I got to thinking today about regulation and its enforcement in this imperfectly government-dominated world after reading this Jon Stewart quote as relayed by Kevin Drum:
With this administration, if a passenger blows up a plane, it's a
failure in the war on terror. But if the plane just blows up on its own
"” eh, it's the market self-regulating.
What struck me that I had not thought of before is the question of whether non-enforcement of a published regulatory regime was the same as letting a market self-regulate. And my answer was: No, at least not in the short to medium term.
The reason is that the government regulatory regime crowds out private mechanisms that might attempt to achieve the same goals. What do I mean by crowding out? For example, if the government published car reliability metrics and regulation for all cars, no matter how imperfect, would JD Power and Consumer Reports bother with the investment to do the same? For decades, insurance companies wrote de facto building codes and performed fire inspections of their insured structures. They no longer do so, because the government has taken on that role (arguably less well than the insurance companies, who had the reputation of being tigers on such inspections). Would Moody's exist to rank bond risks if the government had regulations in place that theoretically forced all securities to (I don't know how) have the same risk? My marina liability insurer conducts occasional inspections of my marinas.
As a result, insurers don't inspect airlines, nor do manufacturers enforce inspection and replacement regimes (as automobile companies do, to some extent, to protect their warranty). Third parties rate airlines for customer service but not for safety. The whole private evaluation regime for airlines exists on the assumption that the government has regulatory program X and Y in place that is enforced. In the long term, if the government were to abandon enforcement, and this lasted long enough for that expectation to exist in the market, new private regulatory methods would arise [arguments would most certainly exist between libertarians and others whether these new regimes were as effective as the old regime, but almost undoubtedly something would emerge]. But in the near term, we don't have a self-regulating market or even the expectation of one.
As a result, I come to the conclusion that while deregulation may be needed, the absolute wrong way to do it is via non-enforcement of existing regulations. So there you have it, a libertarian calls for better enforcement. Comments? I am just starting to think about this and would appreciate feedback.