Monday, July 26, 2010

The value of effective government regulation

Jennifer and I arrived at PDX late last night, returning from our trip to Nebraska. We stood outside the bag claim area, waiting for our ride. The vehicle traffic through the passenger pickup area was clogged, even at 10:45 p.m. We stood there with our luggage, waiting.

After a few minutes, I started to notice that there were quite a few vehicles along the curb lane, idling, their owners either sitting in the driver seat, waiting, or standing outside their vehicles at a door, waiting. More minutes passed, and most of these people continued waiting. The two pickup lanes were almost completely clogged, and vehicles were moving in the two through lanes only slowly.

Eventually, I noticed a handful vehicles along the curbside pickup lane that had not moved in at least ten minutes.

After about fifteen minutes of this, two airport security officers came outside and started directing traffic and pedestrians and ordering that the curbside idling vehicles move on. "The curbside is for active loading and unloading only," as the pre-recorded public service announcement proclaimed every few minutes. The security officers used their whistles and day-glo gloves to direct these drivers to move on. Many of the drivers moved only reluctantly.

Finally, within a few minutes, the traffic lanes began flowing relatively efficiently. The security officers had restored the flow like some moist wad of fiber through a clogged digestive system.

It struck me at this time that this is precisely why we need effective government regulation: individuals do not often regulate themselves effectively. Too many people think that they are the ones for whom the rules do not apply, they are the ones who deserve an exception, etc.

If individuals cannot regulate themselves with such a simple task as picking folks up at the airport, how can individuals and corporations possibly regulate themselves in the complex realms of industrial effluent, worker health & safety, off-shore oil drilling, international finance, etc.?