10/17/2011

The government does a terrible job of keeping you safe.


As always, this anecdote of government failure in and of itself, is quite appalling. But what I want to emphasize, and what I think is of much greater importance than this one specific example of government failure, is the incentives and institution behind this failure.

So the video below (direct link here) documents how the government agency that determines what is the safe level of radiation exposure to the brain via cell phones, or rather, what the maximum allowable radiation emitted from cell phones can be, is all based on studies that use the head of a 6 foot 2 inch, 220 pound man as their model. So the government agency which has the power to force companies to follow their decree, in order to "promote the public interest", in this case, not being exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation, conducts their research to determine what is the safe level for radiation exposure from cell phones, and does so using a human head that is different than 97% of the population. Not surprisingly, the results of these tests are going to be inaccurate for those people whom do not share the same characteristics of the model used.

As a result of this failure, a group of independent scientists that comprise the organization known as the Environmental Health Trust, conducted some research of their own and their findings were quite shocking. They found that the brain of a child received roughly 150% more radiation than that of the model being used. One may begin to see just how woefully dangerous it becomes when assuming a device is safe, because the government "tested it" and declared it to be.

Some of the interesting things of the Environmental Health Trust's research was that they made an effort to study and model the heads of all different types of people, both in size and gender. One would think this would be a pretty straightforward and obvious approach when determining whether or not a device is harmful for mass consumption by everyone, but hey the government apparently thought using a model that does not accurately reflect 97% of the population was close enough!

<a href='http://money.msn.com/money-video?vid=634d45e2-cc8d-4d59-bffc-d350f3aa97d9&src=CPPlayer:embed::uuids' target='_new' title='Study: Most Cell Users Exposed To Alarming Radiation Levels' >Video: Study: Most Cell Users Exposed To Alarming Radiation Levels</a>
Okay, so moving on from my rant at how colossally the government has failed the people it is tasked with protecting in this regard, let us now consider the mechanisms involved and ponder if there is a superior alternative to government-run regulatory agencies. The government agencies are comprised of mostly anonymous and almost entirely unelected bureaucrats. In a situation like this, where it is clear the quality of research and testing has been woefully inadequate to the point of criminal negligence, what are the consequences of such action? Nothing. The agency continues to receive its funding, the bureaucrats whom comprise said agency continue to receive their taxation-funded salaries and extravagent health packages, and if anything, the agency will receive even more funding, once their failures have been brought to light by free people, as now surely more (government) research must be done to look into this matter!

Now in such an institution, a bureaucracy, which is devoid of the profit and loss test, we might hypothesize that without the check of losses for failure, and the reward of profit for success, such sub-optimal performance is not only expected, but an inherent feature of bureaucratic management itself. And we'd be right.

The amazing thing about this example is that I don't need to ask the reader to engage in imagining what the free market alternative would look like. Even in spite of the existing government regulatory agency that de facto prevents competing free market ones from entering the industry, the free market still provides a superior product! For free! Without even the incentive of profit! Now if agencies like the Environmental Health Trust can spring up and produce such results in the current climate, can you imagine the free market alternatives that would grow in a free market regulatory environment? Where they could charge for their certification and thus be incentivized to produce reports that measure the safety of a product as it pertains to most, if not all, people, as opposed to merely 3%! And that very same incentive, only the inverse, of losses, would be used to bankrupt and eliminate agencies that produce government-quality work, and be a robust check on an agencies attempt to "cut corners" or produce sub-par results.
This example of government failure is an intrinsic feature of bureaucracy. Asking for the head of the agency to be replaced, or better scientists, or the right kind of people, or what not, is not going to make any difference in the long run. It can not. It is the institution itself that is responsible for such failures.  Ludwig Von Mises elaborates further in his short book on the matter here: http://mises.org/Books/bureaucracy.pdf.

The market literally produced a superior product, for free, in today's world, under our existing governmental monopoly environment. If that doesn't compel you to recognize that the idea that "only the government can keep us safe" or "only the government can provide X product" is a myth, I don't know what will. And in fact, the government can not and has never produced a superior product in a more efficient manner than the free market alternative. Good lord, look at what free people can produce now! Imagine if the shackles of government were substantially loosened or even removed altogether! Calling for the abolition of the TSA or the FCC or the EPA or any of the other dozen of government agencies tasked with regulating various industries and protecting the consumer, is not a call for less safety.  I care about safety too. So how about we start looking towards solutions that will actually provide a reasonable degree of it, and not just empty rhetoric for the continued existence of programs that merely pretend to.


No comments:

Post a Comment