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Old November 20th, 2012 (10:03 AM).
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Esper Esper is offline
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Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: California
Posts: 10,654
In short, yes, I think it's good to have some government control/regulation. In theory we shouldn't need it - people should take responsibility for themselves and the consequences of their actions - but in practice it doesn't really work like that. You can't just up and leave your job for a better one because your boss doesn't pay well. There may be no higher paying jobs, or they may be too far away and the cost of travel negates the higher pay, or a dozen other things that make it functionally impossible to improve your lot. That's why we need minimum wage laws.

Whenever topics like this come up I'm reminded of something I heard from my econ teacher in high school: externalities. In economic terms these are the things that don't get calculated into the price of a transaction or business but nevertheless have an affect somewhere. Pollution is a great example: your factory is on some land you own and in the process of running your business the factory generates waste. You leave on your own land, but it seeps into groundwater, or a river, and affects a nearby town negatively. This is why we have air quality standards and things of that nature. There would be no solution otherwise because the factory owner could say "Hey, this is my land. I'm doing what I want. Don't like it? Move somewhere else. No one's stopping you."

Government needs to step in whenever externalities are bad or hazardous for people. That's what you get with safety laws, because people acting on their own while driving without restrictions will cause accidents and people will getting hurt. How much we restrict people is the only real question. We make people follow traffic laws because it prevents lots of accidents. We make people wear seatbelts even though that won't affect accidents, but will prevent/ameliorate injuries when accidents do occur, thereby ensuring families' lives aren't thrown into chaos, emergency personnel aren't overburdened saving people's lives, governments aren't paying for medical care which could have been prevented, and so on. We don't mandate that everyone ride buses instead of their own cars, even though that would reduce pollution (and bad health effects) and accidents. We see that as too much of a burden on people.

I think of government control in a law-of-diminishing-returns-kind of way. A little control helps a lot, a little more still does good, a little more and you're still getting some benefit but not much, a little more and you're not seeing much improvement at all, a little more and you're hurting things.
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