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  • Saturday, February 18, 2006


    Economic Size Queens

    Joel Miller was speaking at the Cato Institute on his book Size Matters and I watched a little on Book TV on C-SPAN. (Info on the book at Powell's.)

    I might even agree with Mr. Miller on how government has gotten too large and this size actually hinders economic development while negatively impacting families and small business. Yet, as I listened to his points, I was struck by how much was being left out and excluded from his presentation and examples. This is not surprising. People trying to make a point rarely provide a balanced look at the information. They muster only the information which supports their thesis. That, in essence, is the function of such a book: to prove a point.

    But when I, as an interested but not particularly knowledgeable observer, see the flaws in every supporting argument he makes, then I have to consider it to be a poorly constructed central thesis.

    One example he used was home construction. He quoted a builder who once calculated the amount of cost federal regulation and oversight added to the construction of a single home. The amount presented by Mr. Miller was a little confusing but I think it was $40,000. He made a big point about how this amount delays a family's ability to buy a house by 2-5 years. However, unspoken and unaddressed was what that additional $40K purchased. I admit I don't know either but I'll guess items it includes are: worker safety (e.g., OSHA), inspection for construction guidelines/safety (e.g., electrical), ecological impact statements, etc.

    This is a common argument used in used by pro-business interests. (By pro-business I mean completely unfettered business. "Regulation bad, urrh! Regulation big problem!") This is the myth of the pure "free market" where anything harmful to the public will be stopped eventually because it won't make economic sense and continuing harmful actions will cut into profits. Nice theory but not supported by the evidence at all.

    Companies are about profit, not how they get the profit. The history of industrial development is one long string of companies making workers regularly do unsafe and unhealthy tasks with little or no compensation for loss of health, life, or limb. Are some things overregulated by the federal government? Probably. Is government too large? Maybe. But there are many things that the government does that would never be picked up by private enterprise. And that's why we tolerate some government regulation and interference.

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