Why Do We Regulate?

The Washington Times

Should government regulate business? I expect most people would answer "yes" to that question, but if you ask them why, I expect these same people will have a harder time giving an answer that makes sense.

Some may say, "in order to prevent businesses from engaging in fraud or misrepresentation." But we do not need regulation to do that; there are already many federal, state and local statutes against fraud and misrepresentation, and businesses that behave badly can be dealt with through normal civil and criminal legal means. Others who are a bit more sophisticated might argue that we need to regulate business in order to protect people from "market failures." However, the empirical evidence is that there are far fewer "market failures" than commonly imagined, and many of these so-called market failures are actually a result of misguided government policy or regulation.

For a minute, try to imagine a world without government regulation, but where all of the standard laws against theft, fraud, misrepresentation and bodily injury still exist. Under such a scenario, what do you think would happen if we had no food and drug administration to tell us what was safe to consume? No financial regulators to protect us from bank failures and financial scams? No health and safety regulators to protect us from unsafe products? Would we all die? Not likely, because the judicial system, coupled with private standard setting associations, would likely give us an equal, if not a higher, level of protection than we have now.

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Richard Rahn

Richard W. Rahn is an economist, syndicated columnist, and entrepreneur. He was a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. Currently, he is Chairman of Improbable Success Productions and the Institute for Global Economic Growth. He was the Vice President and Chief Economist of the United States Chamber of Commerce during the Reagan Administration and remains a staunch advocate of supply-side economics, small government, and classical liberalism.