Self-Regulation

By Hugh Griffin-Banerjee

From time to time, the Usual Pundits from our esteemed Fifth estate like to argue about “self-regulation,” even though—with a moment’s thought—it becomes imminently clear that the contraction “self-regulation” is in fact a dangerous contradiction. To wit:

  • The counter salesperson at Sunrise Tactical Supply was self-regulating when he or she sold an AR-15 assault rifle to a mentally unstable 19-year-old, who then murdered three Parkland teachers and 14 high-school students with it. Civilian ownership of assault rifles was banned until 2004, when an enlightened (Republican) Congress overturned the law and let self-regulation take over. Good show! You’ve been accomplices to thousands of deaths since. 
  • President George Bush the Younger was self-regulating when he ordered the invasion of Iraq. More than 4,000 American soldiers and 100,000 Iraqi civilians died in the war. To be fair, Congress hasn’t issued a formal Declaration of War since 1941. Maybe they should rethink their approach.
  • The FDIC, aka the Federal Deposit Insurance Company, shuttered more than 350 banks in the three years after the Crash of 2009. The bankrupt banks self-regulated themselves out of business.
  • Congress was self-regulating when they awarded themselves lifetime pensions at age 62 after five years of service. Presumably, America’s workforce can expect to benefit from similar legislation in the near future.
  • Self-regulation is working in Idaho, where the maximum interest rate that payday lenders may charge their customers is unlimited by law. Thanks to the government’s hands-off, laissez faire policy, the average payday loan in the state carries an annualized interest rate of only 582%! 
  • Cain was self-regulating when he murdered Abel. (The Ten Commandments came later.)

For the record, there’s no point in regulating every petty act of meanness or stupidity. Picking one’s nose at the dinner table and dipping the outcome in the pea soup will have a detrimental effect on most appetites, but Congress needn’t pass a law that forbids it, nor, perish the thought, do they need to create yet another three-initial bureaucracy to enforce it.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s an English word for the absence of regulation. It’s called “anarchy.” A civilized society like ours has to draw the line between anarchy and a four-hundred-year-old body of American law that’s suffocating, ambiguous, contradictory, and costly. But when we draw the line, we need to be honest with ourselves.

Self-regulation is a myth, a con. It’s identical to no regulation. If you still harbor doubts, ask the surviving students and faculty at Parkland High School.