I often point out the excesses of public taxation and spending, but there is another cost imposed on the people by government that is just as dangerous; the cost of excessive government regulation. Regulation costs imposed by Federal, State and Local governments are mostly justified by claiming that they improve public safety. Most of these regulations increase prices to customers with little or no improvement to public safety.
Last weekend I was up in Minneapolis and saw a mural of an old wooden street car from the 1920’s or 1930’s. American cities used to be full of these street cars. They were inexpensive wooden coaches, running on a railroad track along busy streets. Even little Winona, Minnesota (pop 25,000) had a street car running the length of Broadway Street, depositing almost everyone within 5 blocks of their working or shopping destination.
Street cars still are a wonderful mode of public transport, but you must follow federal and state regulations to construct new street car lines, which make costs nearly prohibitive.
The old street car was a wooden carriage on a steel frame. The doors didn’t open and shut automatically, people that walked too closely in front of these cars could be wounded or killed, no expensive signaling systems were in place and the coaches contained no lighted signs telling people which would be the next stop. Minneapolis’ new “street car” (called light rail) runs on a track but the cost to create such a system with all of the safety and regulatory requirements is probably 100 to 1,000 times as much as the systems that used to run 524 miles on twin cities’ streets.
My purpose here is not to wish for a country with no regulations, but to ask for reasonable cost/benefit analysis of such regulations. The Federal government is now proposing strict regulations on everyone in the food business to disclose nutrition information for even the items in a salad bar. You can’t sell a sugared soft drink larger than 16 ounces in New York City because it is bad for the health of your customers.
In spite of the extra hundreds of millions spent to meet current safety regulations people have still managed to die running their cars through the cross arms into Minneapolis light rail system trains. Of course, all of these regulations require more and more government employees to keep us safe and happy. But wouldn’t we be happier with cheap and available street car transport? Wouldn’t we be happier if a step ladder didn’t cost twice as much because of manufactures’ expensive liability insurance premiums? Will people really be safer when the Federal Government makes ordinary citizens register their firearms? Is the safety of a handful of people worth denying literally millions of Americans the cost savings of unnecessary regulation?