Government vs. Markets

Timothy C. May tcmay at
Wed Oct 5 11:30:41 PDT 1994

This recent debate about untested/dangerous/unapproved technology,
such as medical equipment, vitamins, automobile features, is
ideological. I'm not likely to convince the disbelievers here, nor are
they likely--experience shows--to go read the recommended books which
might answer these questions to their satisfaction.

But arguing that the government needs to intervene in markets and
limit free choice to "protect" customers and consumers is precisely
how our present mess got started. And how crypto and communications is
being afffected. (Imagine PGP being outlawed because of its
"uncertified" nature, the bugs is clearly still contains, etc.)

Anonymous wrote:

> A lack of mileage standards, which are regulations on technology, can be
> expected to result in technology that doesn't meet the standard.

No, if customers want good mileage more than they want other features
(like prices, performance, 4-wheel drive, etc.), then they'll pay more
for them. Some do. Some drive little 60 mpg econoboxes, while I drive
an 18 mpg (with a tailwind) Ford Explorer. The market in action.

I could do some calculations on just how unimportant the "fuel
economy" standards are, but I lack the energy and time to make these
points here. Fuel economy standards are about the worst possible case
that can be made for government interference.

> If medical devices are sold without ANY limitation, e.g. the requirement
> that they be safe and effective, the result is unsafe equipment.
> Improved testing technology isn't useful if there's no requirement to
> use it.  And "the market" is composed of people who have neither the
> expertise to test the equipment before they consent to its use, nor (in
> the case of someone's who's bleeding or in labor) the time.

Underwriters Laboratories, Good Housekeeping ("Seal of Appproval"),
and Consumer Reports are better testers than any bureacrats in
Washington, and they are private. Insurance companies have a strong
interest in safe equipment, as do hospitals, doctors, and even

The specter of people killing themselves absent a government standard
is false.

> doses.  Whether people would choose to eat horemone-treated meat is
> debatable; I had thought that the right to make the choice was taken by
> cypherpunks as an article of faith.  Without regulation on the
> technology, even an innocuous labeling requirement, the right to choose
> is taken away because consumers can't detect the difference between
> hormone-treated beef and organic beef.

Again, faslse. If people are concerned, they can ask. They can
patronize organic food stores, as they do in huge numbers here in the
Northern California area. And so on.

What often happens with government-imposed standards is that some
lobbying group decides that "cheese is good for you" and so gets
cheese installed as one of the government-mandated "basic food
groups." (If you think I'm exaggerating, you didn't grow up in the 50s
and 60s, when the "four basic food groups" had to be fed to children
in school lunch programs. Political views have now shifted to the
point where soy milk, bean sprouts, and sun-ripened tomatoes must now
be included in all school lunch programs. :-})

Government standards are a two-edged sword. Many of us would prefer to
"opt out" of their idea of what's healthy and safe and what's not.

Motorcycle helmet laws are a good example. Which I won't get started
on here. 

--Tim May

Timothy C. May         | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,  
tcmay at       | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
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W.A.S.T.E.: Aptos, CA  | black markets, collapse of governments.
Higher Power: 2^859433 | Public Key: PGP and MailSafe available.
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