How's that regulation thing working out for you?
In an Ayn Rand world, regulation would be private, not governmental,
and would work on an old principle: value for value in honest trade.
Government regulation, however, violates the trading principle, the
Constitution, and the rights of free people to produce, trade, or even
Ayn Rand on regulation
Gary Weiss (Ayn Rand Nation) fears
a world without government regulation. He does little to describe what
government regulation does for people and why they would miss it. Like
so many liberals, Weiss says that an Ayn Rand world would have no government regulation and hints, without evidence, that such a world would have no regulation of any kind.
More to the point, he tells his readers what he fears and expects them
to fear it as much as he does. Ayn Rand had no patience with people like
him, and one can scarcely blame her.
Nor did Ayn Rand ignore
regulation completely. She treated the subject in several essays. Her
basic message was the same in each one: buyer and seller would do
business by their own rules. Neighbor would treat neighbor by another
set of rules that they both agreed upon. Pollution would not be a total
“externality,” but a trespass. Contrary to nearly all liberal thought on the environment, everyone in society has a neighbor, and everyone must respect the rights of his neighbor(s).
Terrafugia Transition, the world's first mass-produced light sport
road-legal aircraft. Photo: Ian Maddox, Emerald City, WI; CC BY 2.0
Ayn Rand wrote almost no essays on the philosophy of law. She did
write one essay that could qualify. In “The Property Status of
Airwaves,” she proposed a way to regulate electronic programming and
communications (chiefly radio, television, “citizen’s band,” and “HAM”
in her day). Frequencies should belong, not to the government, but to specific resident owners.
They could then sell their rights to communications or broadcast
operators, the same way that landowners sell development, mineral,
water, and other rights.
Law follows from politics, and politics from ethics. So the principles
she expressed in her writings on ethics and politics would easily
inform “Objectivist law.” “Airwaves” demonstrates those principles
better than any other essay she wrote. They are:
- Anyone who buys something, has the right to buy as he chooses, and is responsible for what he buys and how he uses it.
- Anyone must treat his neighbors as he expects those neighbors to treat him: with mutual respect, each of the other’s rights.
- If buyer and seller, or neighbor and neighbor, disagree, they go to court. Recall that court is one of the three institutions of government that Ayn Rand would keep.
But, one might object, how can one person know what to watch out for?
How can any buyer, or neighbor, know what risks to take, and what to
avoid? How to know what products, or activities next door (or further
away), are dangerous to him, or not? The answer is simple: Information about risk becomes a good, and research into risk becomes a service.
And if a good or a service is important enough, some person, or group
of persons, can offer that good or that service at a profit (or
“operating surplus”). And so they do. Underwriters’ Laboratories
has offered safety research for decades. Abolish government regulation
of any consumer industry today, and tomorrow UL will set up a new safety
research division on that industry. Had UL had car-safety and
aviation-safety divisions, to do what the National Highway Traffic
Safety and Federal Aviation Administrations now do, they could have
approved a new vehicle like the Terrafugia Transition two years sooner than those two agencies did.
How government regulation works out
I could say it…
The delay in approval of such a remarkable vehicle as the Terrafugia
Transition is only the mildest bad result of government regulation. Two
different agencies had to approve it separately, and each had to
negotiate how to bend its rules. But the idea of an aircraft that one
could drive safely on a street or highway (and re-fuel at a conventional
fueling station) intrigued officials at both agencies. Without that,
the Terrafugia Transition would never fly.
Government says it regulates human behavior to make our
society safer. But does that authorize it to destroy ways of doing
things that human beings have done safely for years? Why, for instance,
is the Department of Transportation making new rules to forbid a farm family to divide the farm “chores” among the children of the farm owners? Why does the government suddenly say that one needs a commercial driver’s license to drive a tractor
on a family farm? Farm boys have driven tractors for years. Accidents
happen, but accidents can as easily happen to adult farm hands. If
farmers now must hire more adults and pay to get them their
drivers’ licenses and other work permits, many farm families will not be
able to work their farms at all.
Three motives suggest themselves, and neither has anything to do with safety:
- The government is carving out a captive market for the United Farm
Workers’ Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, or other
- The government favors large “factory farms” over family farms by
making family farms too expensive to work at a profit or even at
- The government wants to transfer prime farmland to the wild under UN Agenda 21.
Nor does the government seem willing to respect religious beliefs. The Washington Times reported
last year when the Food and Drug Administration raided Amish farms for
selling non-heat-treated milk across State lines. This is another
over-extension of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution,
Furthermore, the agencies that make these rules fall under the executive branch of government. But clearly they are quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial in character. As such they weaken the separation of powers. They act as legislature, executive, and court, all in one. The Framers of the Constitution never imagined such a thing. Nor
does the Constitution authorize Congress to delegate its powers in this
way, nor to “ordain or establish” any court that does not answer
directly to the Supreme Court. Yet Congress had done precisely that in creating every one of the hundreds of agencies that regulate every aspect of the behavior of American citizens, nationals, and lawful residents.
…but I won’t.
Ayn Rand, of course, objected fundamentally to the idea that a government should regulate anything except the use of force in society. Governments exist to manage force. So political authority is force. No one disputes that. But for a century, the political theory called Progressivism has conned the American public to accept government management of many things besides force. How the people ran their farms, factories, and other affairs without
the government, few can imagine. But if half the fears that Progressive
advocates express today are reasonable, the casualties from unsafe
products or work rules ought to have rivaled those of the War Between
The United States government today acts as if the American people are stupid, evil, or both. Yet it pretends to fill its own ranks from a somehow better class of people. Ayn Rand would surely offer this advice:
Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you find yourself
facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of
them is wrong.
This is the second in the Ayn Rand World series.
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