March 03, 2017

Horse 2237 - I ♥ Regulations

I love regulations.

There, I've said it. You might think that I'm some sort of crazy person but I'll say it again. I love regulations.

If there's one thing that I have learnt about the world in my not quite four decades upon this planet, it is that people, companies and governments aren't necessarily openly evil but they do have a great predilection for inertia. People, companies and government inadvertently follow the second law of thermodynamics which sounds all sciencey but really it's simple and also has to do with inertia. The law is so simple that a child can explain it - things are lazy; they like to keep on doing what they're already doing until they're mad to do something else or stop. Parents of children (teenagers especially) can see this in action when they try to get them out of bed in the morning: if you leave them in bed, they'll keep on sleeping until ten thirty.

Inertia is also the thing which defines a lot of what goes on in companies and government. Government has a tendency to do nothing for extended periods of time until outside forces like lobby groups and organised protests make them finally act. Likewise, companies have a tendency to keep on doing the cheapest thing unless they are told otherwise. This is the main reason why most regulations come about at all. Government would mostly prefer not to do anything if it could get away with it and companies would prefer to adopt the cheapest practices if they can get away with it. Regulations for the most part are government using the power surrendered to it by the people, to get companies and individuals not to cause harm to anyone else.

When someone complains about regulations, what they are almost always complaining about is compliance costs. Companies want to do what they always do and reduce costs. Regulations though, impose costs upon companies and they don't want to pay them. I find it most singular that President Donald Trump, who is otherwise a businessman, made a point of it during his address to the joint session of Congress that for every new regulation created, two old ones must be eliminated and that a deregulation taskforce would be set up with oversight of every government department. What could a businessman possibly want when it comes to regulations? Could it be a reduction in compliance cost to business? This reads suspiciously like a will or a crime novel. If you want to know what is going on, simply follow the trail of money and see where it leads.

The reason that good law exists, is for the regulation, standardisation and protection of society. Bad law exists for only one purpose; the control of power. When you talk about regulations as things, the critical question to ask is why they exist. What was the motivation for bringing them into existence? Once that has been established it is usually only a short path of logic that needs to be followed in order to find out the fitness and goodness of the regulations in question.
Because I especially love the mundane things of life, I'm going to look at just one set of rather boring regulations. Sometimes when the grand scheme of things is myriad and confusing, one needs to zoom in to see the details; there is often beauty in the minutiae of details.

Take something simple like a power plug. It's something which on the face of it shouldn't have that many regulations but for just the thing itself, the number of specific regulations are many and comprehensive. These are just a few of the highlights of those regulations as contained in
AS/NZS 3112:2000.

AS/NZS 3112:2000
- two flat pins forming an inverted V-shape 
- the two flat pins measure 6.35mm x 1.6mm and measure 17.35mm long
- the two flat pins are set 30° to vertical
- active on left, neutral on right
- the earth pin measures 6.35mm x 1.6mm and 20.0mm long
- live pins must be insulated to 7mm
- nominal voltage is 230V RMS
- nominal amperage is 10A or 15A

- This is seriously exciting stuff.

The actual standard costs about $93 but this preview gives you an idea of how complex it is:

A document which contains 60 pages of technical information doesn't exactly sound like the breeziest of reads to me. Although people might like to think of me as a nerd, not even I'm going to sit down and read this for fun. At the moment I'm reading Volume 1 of Luo Guanzhong's "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" (c.1323) and that book is full of intrigue, betrayal and people being run through with the sword. In other words, there's a lot of swash being buckled in there. In contrast, AS/NZS 3112:2000, "Australian/New Zealand Standard™ Approval and test specification—Plugs
and socket-outlets" sounds to me like a tremendously boring boring boring book, and yet I'm absolutely 100% grateful for it. If the set of regulations weren't there surrounding just this one aspect of electrical appliance design, then there would be a very real and  present danger of fire and or electrocution. If you can find someone who thinks that this set of regulations is arduous and should be done away with, then I will show you a mad person.

If that's just one specific set of regulations which deals with one small thing, then it makes sense that a highly complex world with myriad things has a myriad of regulations. When you talk about regulations to do with land transfer, the ultimate aim is to ensure that the real estate changes hands without a future legal challenge taking place. Regulations surrounding banking and financial instruments are designed with the intent that people don't suffer loss due to direct fraud and outright larceny. Labour laws and conditions are in place because as a society we have expectations that people are paid reasonably and fairly for the work that they do (though recent developments with the Fair Work Commission lead me to believe that entities like the Business Council Of Australia think otherwise) and that the conditions that they work in are safe. In fact, when you consider regulations as opposed to legislation, the vast majority of them are to to with standards and or procedures to try and ensure the physical safety of people's person. If you hear someone talking about there being too many regulations, it is worth asking serious questions about whether or not they will wear the costs of the regulations removal. Remember, in the past we have slavery and people being locked inside burning buildings by unscrupulous business owners, the only reason that that sort of thing doesn't happen any more is because people cried out and often paid with their lives to make substantive changes.

I get extremely suspicious of people who want fewer regulations because it's almost always not them who end up suffering because of their removal. Of itself, government doesn't pass legislation to bring in regulations and to say that it does is a misdirection and a sleight of hand. They want to get away with something.

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