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This One Weird NPR Story about Manure Explains Our Government

This NPR story is full of manure. It’s also full of insight:

Many organic farmers are hopping mad right now at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and their reason involves perhaps the most under-appreciated part of agriculture: plant food, aka fertilizer. Specifically, the FDA, as part of its overhaul of food safety regulations, wants to limit the use of animal manure…

The Food and Drug Administration considers manure a food safety risk….

There is an alternative: Composted manure. The heat from composting kills disease-causing microbes. [C]ompost would cost… anywhere from three to six times more than manure…

[O]rganic farmers are not united in their opposition to the FDA regulations. There’s a divide between large and small producers.

You mean large farmers love these regulations? Of course they do! In fact, larger firms love regulations in general. And if you happen to love regulation, well, I gotta tell you – your love may or may not be well-founded. But one thing’s for sure: It’s killing the smaller, more local firms. Regulation is one of the main explanations for why corporations must be so large, so impersonal, and so powerful in our society. And this NPR story helps explain it.

Complying with a regulation always costs something, whether that cost is large or small. (And also: Whether the regulation is sensible, which many are, or foolish, which many also are.) Whatever the case may be, the costs of regulatory compliance have a funny property about them: They tend to be fixed, or relatively fixed, when compared to the marginal costs of making one more unit of product.

manure

It doesn’t look like much, but that fact is the key to the whole business.

I’ll give an example. Suppose there are two widget factories – Acme and World Wide Widgets. In a typical year, Acme sells 10,000 widgets per year, with a net profit of $100,000. It’s a tiny corporation, but it does okay, employing just a few people and delivering to its owners a modest profit.

World Wide Widgets sells 1,000,000,000 widgets per year, and – because this is a simplified example – it happens to have just the same per-unit profit. That means that it makes $10 billion in profits in a typical year.

One day a disaster strikes at World Wide Widgets: Somehow, a child chokes on a widget and dies. Accounts of the incident vary, but one thing is clear: Somebody Must Do Something. (It’s For The Children!)

A representative from World Wide Widgets goes to Congress and cries tears of contrition on national TV. “Please,” says the rep, “please pass a law helping us to be safe!”

Obediently, and full of the tearful zeitgeist, Congress passes a law declaring that during regular hours of operation, all widget factories must have a trained, paid, full-time safety officer on duty. (Is this otherwise a good law? Is it a bad law? Who knows! I mean, I have the power, as the crafter of the example, to make it either a bad law or a good one, ceteris paribus. But I’m gonna vague it up, because it doesn’t matter.)

The safety officer’s salary and benefits come to $100,000 per year. Acme widgets can’t hire one and still turn a profit. World Wide Widgets barely even notices the cost. They remain profitable either way. And – best of all – if Acme’s owners decide to sell their business, World Wide Widgets might be able to consolidate: They bring all of Acme’s equipment and employees over to their new, expanded, slightly more impersonal and slightly more powerful factory. And they still only need to hire one safety officer. They’re now both bigger and more profitable.

The above example is one reason why, for many regulations, smaller firms are often exempted: If we want them even to exist at all, we can’t treat them like the big guys. But that also has a perverse effect – it sets up a two-tiered economy, in which a firm may choose either to be big or small, but growth from one to the other is always more of a risk than it otherwise would be. As a result, some innovative new processes and products don’t get a chance to go national.

In the past, organic food was an interesting example of the opposite. At the outset of the organic food movement, there were no state-mandated definitions of “organic.” There were relatively few regulations about organic food at all, aside from the ordinary food-safety ones. The industry for quite some time used third parties for certification, or farmers and firms developed their own definitions and simply represented them to customers themselves. That produced some misrepresentation, of course, but it also allowed many consumers and producers alike to discuss the question of just what we mean by “organic.” (Note: It’s not as simple as you think!)

As a result, firms of various sizes were able to advance different and competing definitions for organic food, to experiment with different forms of producing it, and to offer many different (at least purportedly) organic products to consumers, even while remaining both small and flexible.

Increasingly, however, the government did begin to regulate organic food, and that brings us back to the NPR story. Composting manure would appear to be at least a relatively fixed cost: If it’s not a lump sum or a fixed cost per year, it’s certainly one that’s proportional to units sold, because one can almost always make a slightly bigger compost pile.

As a result, the small firms will die out, while the big firms will get bigger. And they’ll thank the friendly government that helped them do to so. And well-meaning progressives will scratch their heads and wonder why organic agriculture, of all things, sold out. (“It used to be about the food, man, not about corporate profits…”)

If you want your answer, it’s over there. In the manure pile.

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138 thoughts on “This One Weird NPR Story about Manure Explains Our Government

  1. I’ve read a lot of libertarian comments on regulations ( some sensible, some not) but they never really answer the good questions. There are very good criticisms, which you have here, about how regs favor big companies, how there are costs to them which proponents underestimate, etc. Then there is always the admission that some regs are sensible. But the good question then seems to be how to get good regulations. That is what we need and to move towards, but that is the meaty question that gets less time then generic, although sometimes accurate complaints and Libertarian Union requirement to write “Its for the children” in every piece.

    I don’t’ really disagree with any of what you wrote, in fact i likely would have agreed with it a few years ago. It just doesn’t really tell me how to move forward in a way to have sensible, good regs. Just saying they should be simple or clear or short doesn’t really tell me much nor does that on its own make much sense.

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    • In some cases, the answer will be that an otherwise good regulation must now be judged a bad one.

      In other cases, I might favor a system of voluntary compliance: Companies could choose to obey the regulations, and submit to inspections, and inform customers that they did. Or they could choose their own best judgment, and refuse the inspections, and a big sign outside would announce to customers that that’s what they were doing.

      In the manure story, I did not hear of anyone actually being sickened, so it’s not clear to me that a regulation is needed, beyond the ordinary ones that apply to farm products in general, and that are always going to be imperfect anyway.

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      • And in some cases voluntary compliance is fine and dandy and in other cases it would be a mega cluster. It just seems back to some regs are good some aren’t. In some cases there may be alternatives, sometimes there isn’t. So we argue each individual case, which is what makes most sense to me.

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      • We’re not really back at square one though.

        Conventional wisdom holds that businesses hate regulations, and that regulations help consumers, and that the balancing has to take place between those two interests, the business class and the consumer class.

        That conventional wisdom is very often wrong, however. The real tradeoff is very often between small, flexible, innovative businesses — and politically well-connected megacorporations.

        That upsets an awful lot of narratives. Or at least it should.

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      • 1. Manure management matters, and should be regulated; particular problems come with phosphates leeching into water supplies and anaerobic fermentation; the larger the pile, the more problematic this will be. But here’s the interesting thing about manure management regulations: they’re more difficult for large-scale industrial farms, smaller farms, with less manure, can pretty easily manage manure composting without specialized equipment. So by shifting the focus from good management practices to food safety, you favor industrial farming, where animal manures are already treated as an industrial product and sold as an input.

        2. The problems of e-coli contamination are very real; but my understanding are that the source of the e-coli matters; the same bacteria do not live in different animals guts, and the big problem is actually human e-coli. Open water subject to CSO’s (combined sewer overflows) is typically labeled not safe for swimming for this reason; but water near a farm or with ducks is never thus labeled, because these e-coli are not a threat to human health. (This is what I’ve assumed from farming and knowing farmers, and from interviewing people on water resources; I do not know it to be fact, so if it’s incorrect, please say so.)

        3. I agree with self-compliance, and prefer 3rd party certification, as long as that 3rd party has standards that actually reflect the certifying objectives; MOFGA, in Maine, for instance has tremendously good standards, is a large part of why Maine is becoming a food-destination in the US. Their certification includes manure composting standards. Fishery certifiers are a problem right now; you can purchase certification from certifiers that are not what their names suggest; such misleading compliance should be discouraged.

        4. Regulation does often favor large industries, which use the regulation to keep small competitors for gaining a foothold. McDonald’s embraces food safety regulation that make it difficult for small shops (non-fry) to set up a business by promoting requirements like fire-suppression systems that are cost prohibitive. In farming, industrial farms typically purchase the fertilizers they use, even the ‘organic’ fertilizers; where small mixed farms typically use farm-generated compost, including manure, for fertilizer.

        But perhaps the larger issue here is the lack of focus on regional food production, on foods that taste of place, and the assumption that cheap food is better.

        But I spend a great deal of effort looking for sources of animal manures each year; I try to get a truck load to compost in the back yard for use in my vegetable gardens the following summer. This is a common activity here, and the real problem is a diminishing supply of good manure because there simply aren’t as many people keeping cows, horses, sheep, goats, and chickens as there was 50 years ago.

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      • potable is a different standard. No open water supply is considered safe to drink without chlorination; only underground water.

        Swimming is a lower criteria, and e-coli is one of those criteria. Any open water supply will have some e-coli for native animal populations.

        State laws will vary, and I suspect swimming standards vary by state; some may not even have them, I don’t know. And I doubt there’s any law against swimming in polluted waters anywhere, except locally, and instead, there’s a hodgepodge of warning system in place.

        Phosphates in water create other hazards, they encourage the growth of algae, which uses up the oxygen. The water becomes more anaerobic, which offers environment to numbers of pathogens, and eventually leads to troubles like fish kills and the bottom layer of decaying plant life turning over to the top of the water, a nasty thing.

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  2. “A representative from World Wide Widgets goes to Congress and cries tears of contrition on national TV. “Please,” says the rep, “please pass a law helping us to be safe!””

    Another nice example of Rent Seeking :)

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  3. Under your system my daughter winds up with lead-paint covered toys from China that aren’t labeled or inspected. I prefer the system as it exists and we subsidize the smaller farmers as needed rather than letting your preferred policies kill my child.

    6th try.

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      • I wish nothing but the best for your daughter. I only gave your scarcastic and ill-considered comment precisely the treatment it deserved.

        As I said in the original post, many regulations are sensible.

        Which part of that did you not understand? Perhaps we can begin there.

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      • What a mean and cruel thing to say. My comment was not sarcastic or ill-considered. I said that your desire for removing regulations leaves out those things that really matter and I prefer to see subsidies for smaller businesses to comply with the regulations if that is what it takes to have safety and not have poisoned food and defective things. What part of that is so hard for you to understand that you had to threaten my daughter?

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      • Oh nonsense.

        I didn’t threaten your daughter. In your very first comment, you declared that I wanted to.

        I snarked right back at you, which you fully deserved.

        You know perfectly well that we live in a non-libertarian world, one where libertarians cannot and do not make the rules. And in that world, your daughter is perfectly, absolutely, 100% safe from lead poisoning. It never, ever happens. Ever.

        So relax. Okay?

        And, if it’s not too much trouble, you might want to read this post, in which I argue for strict regulations of commercial lead use.

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    • Hey, , a word of advice that can save a lot of time around here from a fellow liberal: I understand where you’re coming from. Your experience to date with libertarians on the internet has been disproportionately hard-liners. For whatever reasons of local culture that doesn’t really describe the crop we have here. It takes some adjustment but it’s really not fair to treat these guys like hard-core crazies because they’re not. And we mostly try to not be crazy liberals either. (Although my own sanity is often rightly questioned. )

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      • Pretty much.
        It was here that I discovered not all Libertarians are crackpots.
        I seem to have assimilated that these days.

        Not to pick nits (as I chalk it up to a hasty grab for an example), but . . .
        Most, if not all, of those regulations concerning limits of this or that (like all of that crap in your tap water) were made to limit liability of the company.
        And before safety regulations for factory workers, there was insurance to pay off the people (or their survivors) for injuries incurred. When the average worker became too skilled to easily replace is when the safety regs started rolling out; more a product of specialization of labor.

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    • Don’t be obtuse. There is often a huge difference between a desire for a useful regulation, and the regulation we end up with. The CPSIA, which is the result of lead paint from China, is such a god-awful mess it defies understanding.

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  4. What about a system of alternative safety certification run by states or localities that would allow businesses under a certain size (and, perhaps, operating in no more than some number of states) to be exempt from national regulations conditioned on certain more flexible showings of good procedure? Sort of a negative federalism, where there are national standards, always enforced on large national corporations and multinationals, but with a lower-cost way out for smaller, local firms.

    I’m sure the anti-rent-seeking folks will hate this. And perhaps it’s a terrible idea. But if it’s terrible, it’s still the kind of idea I want national and state legislatures to reject on the basis of being terrible, not on the basis of being illegal under the Twenty-Eighth Amendment.

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    • The model would actually be something along the lines of the pre-clearance regime that existed under the Voting Rights Act until earlier this year. States and localities would craft their alternative sets of small-biz regs (could do it by industry or not, but… probably more rent-seeking if so…), and submit them to federal agencies for approval.

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  5. Hmm but assuming for a moment thatwe comit the (alleged) libertarian heresy of admitting some regulations are sensible/worthwhile and commit the (alleged) liberal heresy of admitting some regularions are specious harmful rentseeking how would one create a system by which the wheat could be seperated from the chaff?

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    • Well yeah, that was my question but there really isn’t an answer. Its issue dependent with people starting from different ideologies, but that’s about it. Seems like a bit of a generic libertarian complaint piece and not much else.

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    • IANAL, but I think a good start would be requiring the courts to apply a tougher standard to a given regulations usefulness/public good/etc., as well as expanding who has standing to bring suit (right now, it seems to me to be very difficult for someone to bring suit against a regulation as harmful).

      Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

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      • Different types of suits.
        A “law suit” proper requires compensable damages, which need be pleaded.
        A suit in equity can do just about anything.

        That said, a suit seeking a declaratory judgment would negate the issue of standing.
        That’s exactly what happened with the EPIC mandamus (which operates more as an injunction*). Even were there compensable damages in that action, they would be impossible to ascertain without adequate information.

        * Declaratory and injunctive relief are very similar, and are often seen in the same action; more or less because the statutes that authorize them are typically the same.

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  6. I think everyone’s on board with “Get rid of bad regulations, keep good regulations” and also on board with “Regulations aren’t free”.

    I think the point where people start running off in different directions is “What’s a good regulation” and “What’s a bad regulation”.

    In the meantime, customers don’t care — they just don’t want e. coli because someone got manure on their dang spinach.

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    • If fresh manure got on spinach the leaves would burn. That is why I have never met anyone who uses raw manure on gardens. Do big producers really put raw manure on their crops?

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      • Normally pre-planting. Concentrated animal feeding operations produce a lot of waste, which normally gets put onto local fields, but generally in fall after harvest and early spring. It gets worked into the ground (at least is supposed to) before any growth.

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      • Yep, that’s the way we did it too. I was just wondering how the manure would be on the crops if it had been worked into the soil. I believe organic producers already have regulations for the amount of time between fertilizing with manure and the harvesting of crops. It used to be touted that the incidence of e-coli found during testing was lower for certified organic farmers because of those regulations. I am surprised to see that now they saying that they don’t know if e-coli is being transferred to organic crops that are fertilized with raw manure but it is better safe than sorry so we are just going to ban the practice entirely. Well I guess when you can’t stop pigs from shitting on crop land and causing e-coli outbreaks it makes sense to stop farmers from spreading manure on crop land because maybe somehow sometime it too might cause an outbreak. At least that seems to be what the FDA is saying.

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  7. I heard this story, and it made my mind run down a different rabbit hole.

    Presumably, plenty of people think it’s a dumb regulation. Presumably, plenty of people (a majority?) think, intuitively, that 200 people injured and 3 killed in an outbreak every 10 years (perhaps even 5 years) is not worth the (approx.) 10% increase in organic produce prices and the decrease in competition that results from the material burden of complying with new regulations which disproportionally disadvantage smaller and newer firms.

    Presumably though, if you asked a group of people whether they would pull a lever to kill 3 people and make hundreds more sick in order to get a coupon for 10% off a (allegedly) premium brand of broccoli, they would, on average, respond with a horrified “No!”

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    • To amend the analogy and make it more accurate, the people would only have the knowledge that every time they go to the grocery store, they have an almost infinitesimal probability of being forced to pull the lever–which perhaps explains the psychology a lot better.

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      • Hmm along this same line of reasoning a regulation requiring impact helmets to be worn at all times would probably save lives through the amelioration of accidental falls or head impacts of various manners. I think it’s safe to say the number of lives saved would be a non zero number. Would you pull a lever to kill a few people and make hundreds of more suffer paralysis or varying degrees of head injuries just so you could feel the wind in your hair when you were outside?

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      • What’s at issue in the intersection between these two scenarios is the amount of personal risk taken on an understood. While the helmet is a direct and much more clearly an individual choice, I would argue (and I know the libertarians would disagree) that the intermediaries involved, and the circumstances surrounding produce purchasing, mean that there is much less direct choice exercised in understanding all the T&Cs involved in buying this kind of organic produce vs. that kind vs. the non-kind.

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      • Why would libertarians disagree? If it’s a question about level of knowledge, I don’t see any disagreement. If it’s a question about whether we ought to be allowed to make a choice with less knowledge and more risk, then, yes, there’d be disagreement. But I’m not sure which of those you’re actually referring to.

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    • Has there been a confirmed outbreak caused by farmers using manure on fields months before the crops were harvested? From what I read the outbreaks have been linked to wild hogs shitting in fields and poor hygiene issues. Maybe we should ban wild hog shit instead.

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  8. Also, the farmer’s quip that he’s never heard of anyone getting harmed from eating his produce is a bit like saying, “But I speed all the time and have never hit anyone, so why are you giving me a ticket officer?”

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    • The speeder who has harmed no one gets a ticket because the law was already in place. Respect for the law demands it.

      The farmer who has harmed no one doesn’t necessarily get a law to stop him from… harming no one.

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      • But whether or not the law gets put in place would obviously not be based on personal or anecdotal history.

        For example, you might be a responsible gun owner of sound mind and body, but that doesn’t mean we don’t introduce more stringent gun regulations.

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      • But whether or not the law gets put in place would obviously not be based on personal or anecdotal history.

        I’m sorry, but I couldn’t stop giggling at this. Regulations get made on the basis of personal or anecdotal history all the time.

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      • The law is beside the point. It’s a fallacy to conclude that something must be safe on the basis of limited anecdotal information. When the consequences of an adverse outcome are bad enough (e.g., multiple deaths), then something can still be unacceptably dangerous, even when the probability of an adverse outcome is low enough that someone can do that thing his whole life and never experience an adverse outcome.

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  9. Jason, I don’t have much in the way of argument against any of the stuff you lay out here.

    But here’s where I’m not sure where to go:

    (1) we can agree with all this, and do away with all regulation, which will eliminate the rent-seeking but have other affects. I think we can agree this is unnecessarily reductive?

    (2) we can agree with all this, and constantly work back and forth to keep the regulatory burden on business appropriate, either by subsidizing small businesses, or exempting them from some regulations, with the full knowledge that this will sometime work and sometimes not, leading to a patchwork of lesser- and greater- effectiveness in the regulatory state, with its attendant issues. Basically we can agree the status quo is suboptimal, but work to make it better, and realize it’s a Sisyphean effort in the long run, but a worthwhile effort nonetheless.

    (3) we can regard “large” businesses as inherently dangerous because of their ability to subsume regulatory costs and their natural inclination to seek rents, and we could place strong caps on the size of business through a different set of regulations… which would decrease some businesses’ economies of scale, but dramatically reduce their ability to capture rent or leverage regulatory weight… which is basically getting rid of the patchwork state of regulation (more justice, likely) with a cost to efficiency (limited economies of scale). It would, however, be a huge boon to smaller corporations and, possibly, arguably, lead to different increases in efficiency because the resulting corporation domain would be more nimble and innovative.

    (4) we can change liability structure such that tort is more accessible for private individuals against large corporations, and let the tort system hammer this out, which comes with *it’s* own costs, as well.

    So where do we go from here?

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    • I like both (2) and (4), but I imagine you knew I’d say that. Really I’m not being programmatic here, however. I’m just using the NPR story as a reminder that the real conflict commonly isn’t between consumers and producers. It’s between small producers and big ones, and the latter typically get to write the regulations, which end up favoring them.

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      • (2) is where we’re at, and it’s probably one of the least pessimum options, I’d agree.

        (4) is the tricky one, to my mind.

        I agree in principle that it could work (and it does seem to be the libertarian-preferred model, generally), but I have two questions on that front:

        (1) what would it look like, subsidized lawyers? Expedited small-to-medium claims courts? (I’d think Wal-Mart would be far more impacted by 100,000 $2500 small claims torts for lead in Chinese toys than a single class action lawsuit, but in order for that to work the small claims system needs to be much more accessible than it is now)

        (2) given that large corporations already have shown a tendency to go for the rent by involving themselves in the legislative process, do you think this is feasible, or would we just see rent-seeking companies figure out how to give themselves “tort rent”, or whatever we’d have to call it?

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      • I’d agree with that, Squeelookle, but it’s much harder to police (for one thing) and suffers from Constitutional problems.

        It would be nice for Congress to police itself and kick out/censure (meaningfully!) bad actors.

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      • Don’t the big businesses get to write the regulations because they get to make unlimited campaign bribes to the right people though? Shouldn’t we have more regulation to stop that?

        None of that is factually correct, so no. And no.

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      • Don’t the big businesses get to write the regulations because they get to make unlimited campaign bribes to the right people though? Shouldn’t we have more regulation to stop that?

        As it turns out, we wrote more regulation to stop that, but the big businesses rewrote them.

        Maybe we could try writing even more regulation to stop that.

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      • 1) That’s not going to work; not in our present system anyway. Too many reasons to be exhaustive here, but: court dockets are typically overburdened anyway, and that would only add to the congestion; no right to counsel in civil matters; expedited procedures are typically reserved for matters involving little or no discovery; expansive view of the right to contract; et al.

        2) If I’m not mistaken, there are insurance policies for suit.

        Not wholly unrelated (though approaching the matter from a different view):
        Suppose your employer requested you to perform an illegal act, and you complied. Should your employer have the right to not pay you for performance of the illegal act?
        Is robbing a drug dealer only of drugs a robbery, or is it drug possession? What property rights are attached to contraband, and when does contraband cease to be property?

        This might be wholly unrelated:
        When giving flowers to the girl, always inspect the stems for signs of manure beforehand.

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  10. I heard another nice example on our local NPR station the other day. Seems Grand Rapids wants to cut down on couch surfing, by making stricter regulations on people renting out bedrooms in their homes to short-stay visitors.

    One of the justifications was concern for the effect on hotels and motels.

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      • There are several problems with Air BnB and the ride-share companies like Sidecar.

        1. They flaunt the fact that they don’t pay the hotel taxes.

        2. Landlords can and potentially do take apartments off the market and just rent them through short-term Air B and B stays without paying the proper taxes for hotels.

        3. They make a profit by not having proper insurance. Your sidecar driver probably does not have commercial insurance, he has normal driver’s insurance. If you get badly injured in an accident, his insurance is probably off the hook, sidecar might be off the hook, and he probably does not have enough personal assets to compensate you. So you might end up paying for huge medical bills out of pocket.

        4. This is more personal but I think the rise of companies like taskrabbit, Lyft, and Sidecar, and the so-called “sharing economy” are really bad for the nation and sign of economic distress. It is not freedom but a sign that many people can no longer find full-time employment in their fields. You do some taskrabbiting here, some sidecaring there, some freelance craigslist projects, and hope to cobble together a decent income. To me this is a return or a potential slide into a sustenance economy.

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      • ND,

        1 & 2: Don’t bother me.

        3: Buyer beware, so long as there’s no actual fraud involved. Don’t protect us from choosing risk.

        4: I rather suspect it’s more of a socio/cultural shift.

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      • #1 seems solvable. Eventually cities will either remove hotel taxes or will impose a fee on users. I don’t see much point in taxes that specifically target hotels. Why would you want to discourage people from visiting your city?

        #2 I’m relatively unmoved. Landlords can do what they want with their units and to the degree they’re evading taxation see #1.

        #3 I’m not enormously concerned about this. First because these new companies claim they’re working out the insurance issues (and they’re incented to do so). Second because people who provide these services had better get insurance if they use the service otherwise they’re courting being ruined. Either way it should eventually resolve itself organically.

        #4 Odd, I get the exact opposite reaction that you do. I don’t see it as a sign of economic distress, I see it as a sign of better networking and information sharing. I can think of the occasional odd annoying job I hate that I’d shell out a few bucks to have done for me. I can also think of some odd annoying (to other jobs) that I’d be fine with doing for a few bucks. Connecting these impulses strikes me as providing genuine value. Also with an aging population every little bit of help that such services can provide will be urgently needed.

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      • Leeesq: Taskrabbit. You’re busy, your garen is full of weeds but you need to get to work. So you hop on this service and offer to pay someone 20 bucks to weed your garden. Some dude is not busy, he likes weeding, he has a profile set up on taskrabbit to alert him to people like you. Taskrabbit connects you. You’re short 20 bucks and have a weeded garden, he’s weeded your garden and is up 20 bucks, you’re both happy.

        Repeat this story for every task you can imagine. That’s taskrabbit.

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      • Re Cultural/Social Shift

        Please defend your thesis.

        I can see why a college or grad student would find sidecar to be good extra cash or some taskrabbit stuff but I still suspect it shows deepening and troubling signs for our economy. I’m a bit of a Silicon Valley skeptic especially about their favorite word “disrupting”.

        Task Rabbit is a website/service that allows people to post or look for micro-jobs. Help someone clean an apartment for 200 dollars or some such. There are also websites that promise college-educated dog walkers.

        This is a problem. Why is it necessary for a dog walker to be college-educated?

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      • @leeesq

        Sally and John used to make 45,000 a year each. Sally as an administrator and John as a construction worker. Now they try and cobble together 50,000 total a year from task rabbit, evening shifts as a sidecar driver, random temp jobs, and other freelance projects.

        Welcome to the sharing economy! Progress!

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      • “This is a problem. Why is it necessary for a dog walker to be college-educated?”

        it’s a way of signaling trustworthiness. i don’t know why people would take it as such on its face but i could see many a person doing so. same with babysitting, etc – someone who has a degree or is working toward a degree in early education or childhood development is seen as more capable and a “safer” choice.

        even if that’s a total bag of nonsense, the npr white people set find it comforting.

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      • Now they try and cobble together 50,000 total a year from task rabbit, evening shifts as a sidecar driver, random temp jobs, and other freelance projects.

        Obviously, the solution is to use the government to prevent either one of these guys from weeding someone else’s garden.

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      • Maybe you conservatives have destroyed so many jobs that they are now stuck trying to find the random odd stuff though? Each of them has good skills but can’t find work. I saw my husband go through the same thing. The solution isn’t to stop them from the odd jobs completely the solution is to make real employment available so that they don’t need to resort to desperation and odd jobs.

        3rd try.

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      • I never said taskrabbit should be illegal. Nor have I seen anyone argue that taskrabbit needs to be shut down like Sidercar or Uber or Air BnB. If someone has, please cite a source.

        I just said I think the rise of people needing to earn an income via sidecar and taskrabbit is a bad economic picture overall because it means that there is not enough good full-time work available. A person can think something should be legal but is also a bad sign. Do you disagree?

        I’ve never owned a dog or cat but my friends who are hardcore pet owners do seem to think along the lines you laid out so yeah….

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      • ND,

        So I’ve got this car, and most of the time it’s not doing anything productive for me… And I’m single living in this big city where it’s hard to meet people…
        Hmmm…..

        Maybe, maybe not. But I’ll say this; even if you’re right–which you may well be–it shows people taking initiative and being entrepreneurial instead of sitting around thinking that somehow it’s others’ responsibility to create jobs for them. You’re fretting for these poor people; I admire them.

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      • To be honest, I don’t think it’s a bad sign at all.

        I suspect that this technology is merely making public something that has been private for a fairly long while. We have friends that do stuff like ask us to take care of their cats while they’re away for a week in exchange for some help putting up a fence in the backyard.

        We are terribly fortunate to have friends who can show up and help me put up a fence in the backyard and who feel that the scales have been balanced by our petsitting.

        There are a lot of people out there who don’t have friends like that but still need help with fences or petsitting. I see the websites allowing them to find each other as golden achievements for what the internet can do.

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      • People are either miscontrusing my argument or I am not making it very well.

        It is like the sudden or not so-sudden rise of adjunct professors as teaching the bulk of university courses. Most courses are now taught by people earning 2500 or so a class and not making any benefits or pensions from what I hear.

        I’m not arguing that people should not do taskrabbit or sidecar. I’m arguing that it is another sympton in the death of jobs that provided proper benefits and pensions and good salaries and another data point in the field of wages stagnating far behind productivity.

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      • ,
        There are a lot of people out there who don’t have friends like that but still need help with fences or petsitting. I see the websites allowing them to find each other as golden achievements for what the internet can do.

        Amen. And I remember a lot of weekend days when I was young and single and a bit bored and would have been delighted to walk somebody’s dogs for a few bucks.


        Nor have I seen anyone argue that taskrabbit needs to be shut down like Sidercar or Uber or Air BnB

        I don’t understand the argument for shutting these down. I’ve known a couple people who couch-surfed through Europe and had a great experience, and it made the trip affordable. If I want to spend my weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan on a stranger’s couch or guest bedroom, this should be prevented…..why?

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      • I was mainly responding to Jaybird’s sarcasm about the solution. He assumed facts not in evidence.

        I’m largely ambivalent about the rise of sidecar, air bnb, and the like. Air B and B is not really anything new. There have always been management companies to help rent your apartment to vacationers. LeeEsq and I used some service like that when we stayed in Paris once with some of his law school friends. I do find tech talk annoying though.

        That being said Squeelookle states more succintley what I was trying to say about the problems with the odd job market. At least I see these as social and economic problems.

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      • ND,

        Even if so, I’m not really moved. Economies change, people find new opportunities, human ingenuity moves on as an unstoppable force. The multi-century trend has been toward higher standards of living, and I’m not ready to fret over what very likely turns out to be a blip in the localized data caused by the opportunity for the lesser-developed world to catch up to us.

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      • If I want to spend my weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan on a stranger’s couch or guest bedroom, this should be prevented…..why

        Because it encourages people spend their weekends in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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      • “I just said I think the rise of people needing to earn an income via sidecar and taskrabbit is a bad economic picture overall because it means that there is not enough good full-time work available.”

        But why do you assume they need to earn the income? Rather than just trying to make some extra cash? I’ve considered participating in such services not because we’re in the red, but because extra spending money ain’t a bad thing.

        Separately, were you aware that NYC/Bloomberg are going after AirB&B pretty hard?

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      • I am, in fact, going to spend the weekend in Grand Rapids, although at a hotel. Except for all the Dutch Calvinist social conservatives, it’s a pretty nice place.

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      • That reminds me of a place I used to work at, long ago. We did a lot of business with a company headquartered in The Netherlands. Everybody, and I mean everybody, lobbied to go on business trips there, thinking they’d head out as soon as the work day ended and party in Amsterdam all night. Except that this place wasn’t in Amsterdam; it was out in the boonies where everything closed at 6. And you’d be invited at least one night to spend the evening at the house of their CEO, who was an elder in the local Calvinist Church. Good times, good times.

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      • “It is like the sudden or not so-sudden rise of adjunct professors as teaching the bulk of university courses. Most courses are now taught by people earning 2500 or so a class and not making any benefits or pensions from what I hear.”

        is it? that situation arises because a) students don’t particularly care, especially in larger schools where you have a high student/faculty ratio and b) there are just so dang many of them. why pay a new tenure track hire 60k a year when you can pay someone a lot less than that and your end result is basically the same?*

        i mean, my wife is a new tenure track hire and i’m real glad she is, but i also recognize the utter absurdity of paying someone a lot of money to teach 101 when the market is so glutted that 300+ other people were vying for this one spot. heck, for some professors, not having to teach undergrads is an actual professional goal. (u. of chicago, nyu, other big places)

        it’s a very silly profession, all told.

        * i am amused when faculty makes this same observation about administrators. it’s also true…and yet the ironing is never quite as delicious.

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      • North says:

        “There are several problems with Air BnB and the ride-share companies like Sidecar.

        1. They flaunt the fact that they don’t pay the hotel taxes.

        2. Landlords can and potentially do take apartments off the market and just rent them through short-term Air B and B stays without paying the proper taxes for hotels.

        J@m3z Aitch says: 1 & 2: Don’t bother me.”

        The thing is, though, that these are not stunning innovations that are simply going to outcompete the legacy providers and leave us with better service at lower prices. All they’re doing is using a loophole to avoid the regulatory structure that adds fixed costs to established businesses. Existing hotel companies and taxi services would gladly avoid paying lodging taxes, buying medallions for drivers, etcetera; they’re just prevented by law from operating that way.

        It’s like how there’s all these concept electric vehicles that are based on three-wheel platforms. This isn’t because the three-wheel platform is somehow superior to a four-wheel vehicle; it’s because a three-wheel platform is considered a motorcycle, as far as safety regulations apply, which is to say that safety regulations don’t apply and you can get away with not having bumpers, airbags, energy-absorbent structures, minimum separation between driver and impact, crash testing…

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      • I’m more with ND on the rise of the shared economy rather than with James and Jaybird. Its sounds way too much like the situation that existed in the more backwards parts of Europe during the late 19th and early 20th century, where people were lucky to get a certain amount of days for work. Life isn’t easy but it shouldn’t be artificially hard either.

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      • , hotel taxes are common in cities and towns where a significant amount of the publicly supported infrastructure is used primarily by tourists, especially where funds aren’t easily accessible via usage fees.

        So, for example, the city of Pismo Beach, CA has a census population of 7600, but during tourist season, it climbs to 30,000. The bulk of its budget comes from transient occupancy tax and property taxes on vacation homes.

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      • A lot of people here seem committed to the idea that the present model of economic and social organization centered around the permanent, full-time employment, a job, is somehow the pinnacle of human evolution. Why?

        I have a job. I have a great job. It’s the job that it took me about five years of fairly hard work to get. And you know what? As much as I love it, I look forward to the day when I don’t have to do it anymore. In ten to fifteen years, I hope to have no job. I hope to have acquired enough capital, both human and monetary, to allow me to work for myself doing consulting/freelance work at my own discretion.

        What some people are describing as dystopia sounds like an awfully exciting and liberating future to me. To each his own, though.

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      • “I have a job. I have a great job. It’s the job that it took me about five years of fairly hard work to get. And you know what? As much as I love it, I look forward to the day when I don’t have to do it anymore. In ten to fifteen years, I hope to have no job. I hope to have acquired enough capital, both human and monetary, to allow me to work for myself doing consulting/freelance work at my own discretion.”

        I think the key phrase in this paragraph is the “hope to have acquired enough capital, both human and monetary.”

        If you can do this great. A lot of lawyers probably hope to open their own firms one day as well. However there is a big difference between:

        1. The partner with 15 years of experience and a book of business (clients) who decides to leave his biglaw job and start his own firm; and

        2. The just passed the bar 25 year old with zero experience, zero connections, zero capital, and a lot of student loan debt.

        or even a few 5 year associates with minimal capital but a good amount of experience who realize they will not make partner at their current firm.

        I don’t object to freelance and consulting work for those who want it or thrive on it. I object to a system that considers it a natural good for people to need to be freelancers and entrepenurs by force of circumstance or general economics. Stability is a good at it seems like a lot of people place the value of stability at zero.

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      • I like how the big corporations are extracting too much of the labor surplus from the proletariat, and then when the proles attempt to take it back by using their own micro capitalization and modern tech to deal direct with the people & cut the corporations out of the loop, it becomes a portent of the end of the world as we know it.

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      • I’ve heard people talk about how the prefer Lyft and Sidecar to traditional cabs because it allows them to interact with cool hipsters instead of older and out of touch immigrants or the Vietnam Vets on the late shift.

        So there is also that angle. It could be further sorting so into our tribes.

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      • I object to a system that considers it a natural good for people to need to be freelancers and entrepenurs by force of circumstance or general economics. Stability is a good at it seems like a lot of people place the value of stability at zero.

        To what system exactly are you referring? This is a conversation about the existence of technology platforms that allow people to buy and sell goods and services directly between individuals without going through a traditional corporation and with minimal government interference. I don’t see how this constitutes a system.

        It’s certainly true that we are in the middle of some very real and very big structural changes that will present a challenge to traditional notions of stability (stability in the form of career-long employment with one firm, with great employer-provided benefits, and a defined benefit pension at retirement). For good, bad or indifferent, those days are all but over. And it’s not because some nefarious group of people decided that it should be over. Rather, it’s because of a combination of several interconnected factors: convergence between the developed and less-developed economies; increased global mobility of capital and labor; and exponential growth in the technology that allows this all to happen. We have roughly two choices: we can expend lots of effort trying to prolong that model or can expend lots of effort better preparing people for the reality of the future.

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      • @j-r I think this is the disconnect. You look at somebody juggling three freelance jobs and you see somebody who’s sick of dealing with corporate America and setting out on their own. I see somebody who likely can’t find a permanent job, so who has to scramble just to keep their head above water.

        The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but I bet if you offered a lot of those people freelancing permanent full-time work next week, they’d have less reason to rent their rooms or be driving people around on a random Friday night.

        I want a world where if somebody wants to go out on their own, they can do that (thanks to the fact we have single payer healthcare so their no longer chained to their job), but if they want a long ‘safe’ career, where they get a pension at the end, they can do that as well.

        There’s this idea that unless everybody is equally at risk of being laid off tomorrow in a beautiful superflexible labor market, innovation will stop. I find that silly. Albert Einstein did a lot of his work as a patent clerk.

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      • You look at somebody juggling three freelance jobs and you see somebody who’s sick of dealing with corporate America and setting out on their own.

        I don’t see anything, because generally I’m not in the business of projecting preferences onto other people. If people want to freelance, cool. If people want a full-time job, cool. For the most part, I hope that everyone gets what they want.

        There’s this idea that unless everybody is equally at risk of being laid off tomorrow in a beautiful superflexible labor market, innovation will stop. I find that silly.

        Good, because that is an absurd argument. However, I don’t see very many people making that argument. That seems much more like the progressive caricature of the free-market position than it does like any actual free-market position.

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      • I find it a bit surreal to be siding with Lee and NewDealer against other libertarians, but there are legitimate economic reasons for the formation of firms that have nothing to do with regulations. Economies of scale, specialization, limiting transaction costs, and the fact that some people just aren’t very entrepreneurial come to mind. I guess it’s possible that at some point in the future the majority of people will just be independently completing tasks assigned to them by something like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, but it’s not at all clear to me that this is likely or even desirable.

        Jobs are neither exploitative nor (entirely) workarounds for the problems created by excessive regulation. They enhance productivity by solving real coordination problems.

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      • .

        Die, heretic!

        No, you’re right. Coase laid out the classic theory of the firm decades ago, and the essential argument is that firms arise and grow when the costs of contracting are greater than the costs of hierarchical management. And when the costs of hierarchical management are greater than the costs of contracting firms will be smaller.

        But one of the effects of our new technologies is that contracting out becomes cheaper, so we can expect some changes in the future. It’s not that there’ll be no big firms anymore (big in terms of employee size, not cap value), because not all industries have the same cost-structure, obviously. But firms with mass numbers of permanent employees are likely to become comparatively less common, less the dominant feature of the U.S. economy than they were in the mid to late 20th century.

        This will be good overall, especially globally. But that doesn’t mean it will be good for everyone. Some people value security above income and wealth. The new economic world will make that more difficult for them–not necessarily impossible, just more difficult than the day when a recent high school grad could walk into GM with his uncle who worked there and be offered a job that was effectively for life. And it’s not just that they’ll be likely to struggle financially, but it will be psychologically hard on them, because it’s not the amount of money that matters as much as the sense of security and certainty.

        That’s not a knock on those folks, either, because I’m kind of one of them. I’ve abandoned security to take economic risks a few times in my life, but overall I’m not very entrepreneurial (I’ve had quite a few entrepreneurial ideas, but never the gumption or drive to pursue them), and I really value the security of the job I have. That’s especially so because I have kids, and I know how crucial security and stability is to children.

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    • No, it couldn’t. We have no reason to believe that a nationalized factory will be safer than a regulated one. Depending on political corruption levels, it might be able to operate unsafely with a lot more impunity.

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      • This is true, but in a regulated factory situation it’s harder to have a class break.

        You can bribe an individual inspector, sure. But while an individual inspector is cheaper than the Regional Poobah, in the nationalized system once you bribe the Poobah you can ignore all the inspectors, because the inspectors can’t over-ride the Poobah.

        Whereas in the regulated factory, the incentive for the evil-minded is to bribe their local inspector (because he’s way cheaper than the Poobah), but the Poobah presumably audits all of the local inspectors, so you can catch malfeasance that way.

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      • You seem to trust businesses and distrust goverment. I’ve worked for businesses and know better than to trust them.

        if you bribe the Poobah in a nationalized system that may happen but if bad things are happening at your factory then people actually have the ability to turn to the government and their representatives and make changes and if the changes aren’t made then you vote the representatives out and get new ones who will make changes. If you have the system we have now then all the company does is maybe plead out or have a small fine and then they go on as they did before. I think of all the news we’ve seen about companies price fixing this or lying about the ingredients in that or making something that was unsafe and never really having to be punished for it even if their executives knew what they were doing was hurting people or making people sick or was stealing from people. I want stronger protections from that so that we have a society where it doesn’t happen and where the businesses know that they can’t get away with it because it will cost them too much to try to get away with it and what I see Mr Kuznicki describing is the exact opposite, his ideas create a system where people have no protections.

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      • Let me phrase it this way… when you look at those countries that have a monolithic approach to regulation (say, China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia) you don’t get a sense that this works better in the general case than a less monolithic one (say, the U.S.), and it’s certainly the case that the worst scenarios are at both ends (neither highly unregulated economies nor very central, very highly regulated economies seem to have great track records on things like worker safety, pollution, etc.)

        Thus it seems pretty likely that the middle cases, like us, are about the best we’re going to get.

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      • A few points.

        1. It is difficult to have a non-uniform regulatory environment in Singapore. It is only slightly more than half the size of NYC.

        2. China actually has a quite a bit of quasi federalism going on. The way I understand it, the bureaucrat in charge of each administrative division has a air bit of latitude in terms of devising rules for his own jurisdiction. Successful bureaucrats get promoted and are put in charge of larger jurisdictions where they get to repeat their successful experiments on increasingly larger scales.

        3. Regulation in Singapore is weird in that strictly speaking, there is no legal bite to many “regulations” (though not necessarily all). They’re just guidelines which the government publishes and which many businesses follow ostensibly out of civic mindedness. The exceptions that come to mind are those related to food and worker safety.

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      • I was thinking about #3 (or something similar) upthread; that self-regulating behaviors form a de facto baseline to which all regulation is supplemental.
        But examples of unconscionable acts are plentiful.

        Q: Why food & worker safety in Singapore? Why are these the exceptions? Is it purely a historical perspective, or is something else at play?

        The inquiry of why unconscionable acts are so generally forgiven (or accepted) in the US seems to be too open-ended to be of use.

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  11. “people actually have the ability to turn to the government and their representatives and make changes and if the changes aren’t made then you vote the representatives out and get new ones who will make changes.”
    Yep, politicians sure are receptive to the will of the people, which is why every politically unpopular law has gone the way of warrantless surveillance and the war on drugs.

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    • Um, don’t look at actual polling if you want your worldview upended, but most people either approve or don’t really care about warrantless wiretapping and the War on Some Drugs.

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      • well part of the war on some drugs that some people use is that their cute little spawn never gets busted for a joint or an 8ball, and when they are its a quick trip to rehab and a small fine. they never get to feel the full force of the law giving their little snowflakes 20-life for having crack on them or just being in the same house as the local dealer.

        TL:DR as long as the war on drugs is mostly a war on non-white people or just poor people, the masses will not give 2 dams.

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      • It really goes far beyond that.
        Studies show that police families suffer domestic violence at rates of 3 to 4 times that of the general population.
        For a jury of 12, at the general rate, 1.2 jurors would live in a family suffering domestic violence.
        For a jury of 12 police officers, that jumps to 3.6 to 4.8; avg. 4.2.
        But I’m fairly certain that, were you to ask the members of any jury, “When the officer subjected his family to domestic violence, did the bitch have it coming to her?” alongside, “Was the officer’s testimony more credible than that of the defendant?” you would be likely to get two different answers.
        There’s a pervasive sickness in our times, psychological in nature.

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  12. Actually the question is is any food that is eaten raw such as salad greens grown in the fields in question. Recall that there have been several instances of major outbreaks from such food grown in fields near where animals graze. (Look at the various packaged salad recalls over the last few years) In particular greens that are mostly leaves. So this is the reason for the proposal.

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  13. This is a good thing to be aware of, but I’m not sure it’s as meaningful as you seem to be implying. That, or it has significantly wider implications than you seem to be implying.

    At first glance, we should be indifferent about whether our widgets are produced by World Wide Widget or by Acme. So if a regulation passes cost/benefit analysis, even just with the economy of scale of World Wide Widget, then it’s a net gain to pass the regulation and let WWW take Acme’s business. The regulation is no different from an inherent economy of scale: if the most efficient way to produce widgets is at a large scale, we should do it that way.

    Now, perhaps we’re not indifferent to whether WWW or Acme makes widgets. Perhaps the scale of WWW allows it to exercise undue political influence or makes it a monopoly. Or perhaps, as you suggest, small companies are more nimble and prone to innovate. But those concerns should apply equally whether the advantage of size is caused by government regulation or not. If increasing the dominance of large corporations is a reason “an otherwise good regulation must now be judged a bad one”, then it is equally a reason to oppose the dominance of large corporations even in the absence of regulation.

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    • This is an excellent post Jason, but then I do have a soft spot for benefit-cost analysis wonkery.

      For the liberals out there wondering what to do with this post, I suggest drawing two lessons from the type of situation Jason is describing here:
      1) Compliance burden matters. It may well be true that it is the price for a civilised society, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make that price lower, when we can. And the best way to do that, if you feel regulation is necessary, is to focus on how an industry is regulated. Jason points out that fixed costs will increase the optimum size of firms in an industry. To that I would add transaction costs (anything that makes it harder or more expensive for a firm to deal with suppliers / customer / distributors). If corporate power concerns you, look for ways of regulating firms that have a per-unit cost. How about instead of insisting on masses of pages of compliance documents, you require government inspections, that charge a per-unit fee for inspecting the work?

      2) Welfare economics is complicated. Populist rhetoric often assumes groups of similar people have near-identical interests with regard to a given policy (case in point: “We are the 99%”). But not only do all business owners not share the same interests, the business owners in the same industry don’t all share the same interests. This has several implications for policy: Industry groups will be less unified than you might assume at first glance, and the business supporting your regulatory effort may not be doing it out of civic responsibility, or even to deflect bad publicity, but rather because they expect to increase their profitability as a result. I suggest taking a leaf from the book of Havelock Vetinari and consider that “There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides”.

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      • On 1, why not just subsidize those small businesses if you believe the cost of compliance is harder on them than on the large businesses? Then we get safety monitoring on all of them.

        2nd try.

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      • Murali, that’s not entirely Squee’s fault. If Squee doesn’t change a comment, it’ll be blocked for being a duplicate. So adding the attempt number prevents that blockage. S could presumably make some other alteration, but adding the attempt number is probably the straightforward thing (because it’s different on each attempt).

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      • ,

        Looks that way, doesn’t it? I say we just sit back and enjoy watching it all play out to its inevitable conclusion. Maybe start a pool to wager on how long it takes.

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      • My brother in law gave us a computer and he set it up. I wouldn’t know how to change it if I tried and I’d probably mess it up anyways. I called him to ask and he says the problem is with your website not following standards and not how he set it up so we don’t get tracked.

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      • It’s not an issue with web standards. It’s an issue with the spam filter turning away comments through anonymizers at greater frequency due to the IP addresses associated with them being associated with bad activity.

        There are issues with the site’s handling that may be due to site problems (WordPress, the theme we use, some plug-in or another), but the rejection of comments through anonymizers, as well as rejecting duplicate comments are, actually, both examples of the system doing its job the best it can. Ideally, there would be no bad actors and none of this would be necessary.

        Anonymizers are expressly mentioned in the site’s commenting policy as being problematic. We allow their use, but they pose an inconvenience to the poster. We are pretty limited in the extent to which we are going to impose that inconvenience on ourselves.

        Especially given the frequency with which anonymizers are used for reasons unacceptable to this site.

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      • In that case, the image of a child choking on an indefinite pronoun is hilarious.
        It also alters my view of the examples. Whereas before I have an inclination to side with the small business, I also have a soft spot for indefinite pronouns.
        If there’s any way we can produce even more indefinite pronouns at a reduced price, I say we go for it.

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  14. I want a world where if somebody wants to go out on their own, they can do that (thanks to the fact we have single payer healthcare so their no longer chained to their job), but if they want a long ‘safe’ career, where they get a pension at the end, they can do that as well.

    I get the impression that a lot of corporations & governments don’t want freelancers out there, or would rather minimize them (unless, of course, they work for a corporation with no benefits).

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  15. Re: How to handle the fixed cost regulation problem.

    What if we allowed small businesses to join regulatory cooperatives. So if all the small widget makers got together, they could collectively hire a single inspector who would be responsible for all the players?

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  16. As a Liberal, and a Fed who works for a regulatory agency – albeit in a research office – I have several reactions to this piece. First, I fail to see how we ever get to a voluntary compliance approach when recent history shows that financial actors failed to voluntarily comply with regulations, which resulted in significant deficit spending by the government (begun under a Republican and continued under a Democrat) to prevent an economic collapse. Second, regulatory burdens do have a cost, but the petrochemical industry in whose shadow I grew up routinely pays the fine for violations instead of complying because the fines are – according to them – less then the cost of compliance. When violations and fine are the normative practice in a regulatory scheme, I am loathe to give any sort of veracity to any claims about costs because it usually indicates there is no innovation or creativity being shown by the large corporate actors in meeting the regulatory burden. Third, I disagree that regulatory burdens in our day and age are any sort of business start-up barrier – most of them contain either alternate less burdensome approaches for small businesses, or oughtright exemptions (like the ACA’s floor on providing health insurance). Rather, it appears the tightening of business to business credit following the Great Recession is having a more deleterious effect – and that’s a market decision by rent seeking corporations, not a government imposed regulatory scheme. And fourth, much of the problem with implementing “good regulation” rests on the public’s unwillingness to pay for government apparatus to deal with these issues. the FDA and USDA have lost significant staff the last several years – and stand to loose more due to ongoing Sequestration cuts. Thus they have fewer people who can do the work to see if uncomposted manure really is safe – work that takes specialized degrees and years of research and is nOT going to be done by ADM or Monsanto. Given the SIGNIFICANT public backlash to regulatory failures where the government failed to prevent harm due to lack of knowledge, short staffed government agencies have no choice but to say “No” more often.

    And none of that answers the fundamental question that you were asked up thread – how do we develop “good regulations?”

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    • You’re more charitable towards Monsanto than I am.
      They do the research, then bury it.
      Everyone does research, because you have to know
      how many people you kill before you can do a risk assessment.

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