I could feel myself momentarily feeling gratitude toward the wise regulatory mother who protected us with this life-saving rule. Then I thought about it for a moment. Wait a second; the television report went on to parenthetically mention that this technology has already been deployed in half of all new cars. The new regulation will mandate its installation in all new cars in five years. By that time, car manufacturers would have already voluntarily chosen to put it in all new cars anyway.
What is going on here is regulatory braggadocio. The regulator claims credit for a product she did not invent, one which private automobile manufacturers were going to implement anyway. The regulator stole the spotlight from the engineers and automobile executives who, acting out of self-interest, were making their product better by making it safer.
All regulations work this way. The technology behind a safety innovation is always created in the market by profit-seeking businessmen. They implement it, sooner or later, depending on the market demand for such a safety innovation. All technologies are costly and the market will determine whether and when it pays to implement a particular technology. It is estimated that this particular braking technology would add $110 to the price of a car. Would it be worth it if it cost $5,000 per car? Only a car maker and its customers can determine that, which is why costly safety improvements are typically installed in luxury vehicles first before they are mass-produced for cheaper cars.
The regulator co-opts this natural market process that makes products safer over time. In some cases, such as this one, the regulator merely steals the limelight from a safety enhancement that was being instituted anyway. In other cases, he forces on an unwilling manufacturer and customer a safety mechanism that is too expensive. Either way, the public gets a clear message. The regulator is beneficent and is the only reason products are safe. You can
As I thought through this, that fleeting feeling of thankfulness to the beneficent regulator was replaced by another feeling: contempt. And in my mind I thanked those who do get the credit: the engineers and software designers and executives who developed this life-saving technology at the world
Friday, April 06, 2007