Banning Soap – The Power of the State

Triclosan-2There’s a rather interesting news story about how the state of Minnesota has banned the sale of a chemical called triclosan that is used in anti-bacterial soaps. It gives me a good opportunity to talk about who best protects us: the federal government, the state, or our own purchasing habits.

The Federal Government through the Food and Drug Administration regulates a huge variety of products. Frankly I’m not really sure that this power should exist. The justification is that certain products are inherently harmful and the government should protect us from such things. The FDA has protected U.S. consumers from products on a number of occasions including the infamous thalidomide case.

The justification for the very existing of the FDA can pretty clearly be traced to the free press and journalists like Upton Sinclair who wrote books like The Jungle. When the people of the United States started to become aware of the things that were put into their food they clamored for remedy from the government. Thus did Theodore Roosevelt bring into existence what today we call the FDA.

Interestingly Sinclair himself, an avowed socialist, did not support the creation of this bureau claiming that all it did was help industry and put a $30 million dollar burden on taxpayers. One wonders what he would think of the fact that the FDA currently has a budget of $4.36 billion dollars and is the agency that oversees 25% of all consumer goods sold in the U.S.

This is where states like Minnesota came into the picture. While the Constitutional argument for the FDA has already been decided and vast powers given to the federal government I think it is without question that a state has the power to make such regulatory decisions.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

This power of the state often drives federal law as we are seeing with marijuana.

I’m a Libertarian and have strong doubts about the FDA as a whole. On the other hand, I have no doubt that the quest for profit leads industry to shortcuts and that these shortcuts can be, have been, and continue to be dangerous to the citizens of this country.

I’m generally distrustful of government. I’m also aware that industry will knowingly put me in harm’s way to increase profit.

Where does this leave me? Leave us? Leave our nation?

Good questions and there are no easy answers.

One step in the right direction is the transparency engendered by the internet. The more information we have the better decisions we make. If we know how the animal is being treated we change our purchasing habits, thus the rise in Free Range farmed animals.

In the end I think solutions arrived at by transparent, real capitalism (not Crony Capitalism) are probably the best, imperfect though they are. If we allow politicians to dictate things outside the purview of the Constitution we are asking for trouble. If we allow industry to make decisions while hiding the dangers of their products we are asking for trouble. Until recently we had to rely on the government to curtail industry for the most egregious violations.

I’ll make one final argument and then be on my way. While the state of Minnesota is going forward with the ban of triclosan the reality is that because of public outcry the companies that make soap were already phasing it out of production and offering triclosan-free products. That’s the power of the people. That’s power that works, not always quickly, not always in time to save every life, not perfectly to be certain. What other good options are there?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere


Why you Should Ignore Rules and Procedures

Slavish Insistence on Following RulesI’m a big fan of rules and procedures. I’m rather a pest in the office when it comes to such things. Well written procedures are extremely useful in running an efficient operation. There are any number of ways to do something but generally one method has emerged as the best. When rules and procedures are not followed there are often problems.

I’m a proponent of stop-signs and no right hand turn on red regulations at particular intersections. There are generally good reasons for these things and following the rules and regulations is a benefit for everyone. When people stop following the rules things can become chaotic, inefficient, and error-prone.

So, why am I writing about ignoring rules and procedures? Because rules and procedures don’t exist without purpose. They are merely an attempt to codify a method by which things are most efficiently done and to prevent mistakes and even tragedy. If we do not understand the purpose of rules and procedures and follow them slavishly under all circumstances then we not only undermine efficiency and safety but we give up our freedom.

This is the world of zero-tolerance. This is a world bereft of personal responsibility. This is a world where creativity is crushed and mindless obligation to duty praised.

In my office we have a lot of computer equipment. This equipment ends up coming into the office and going out of the office. It moves from location to location in our office. It is very easy to lose track of this equipment and then there is a problem. Projectors go missing, laptops go missing, servers go missing. These things cost a lot of money and where there is inadequate tracking there is the opportunity for theft.

I teach training classes and we have a group of machines that have Microsoft Office 2007 on them and another with Office 2010. This week I have a very small class, two students, for Office 2007 followed immediately by a very large class for 2010.

The room where I teach is generally setup for Office 2010 with thirteen machines. For the small class I had to get three (one for the instructor) computers from our lockup and put them in the room. I wrote down the asset tag numbers for these computers and notified the appropriate person that they had been moved.

I was asked what happened to the three machines that had been removed, did they go back into lockup? No, I just stashed them behind my podium as the next day I’d be returning them to their original station.

That’s not the procedure I was told.

It’s not a big deal but this what I’m getting at. I wasn’t punished, no one is in trouble. Those three machines were in the room, stayed in the room, and will be replaced in their original position after being displaced for about 48 hours. The purpose of the procedure was to make sure they weren’t misplaced. It is my assertion that there was no danger of that in this case, and therefore the procedures can safely be ignored. It was agreed I was correct and the tracking was not performed on those three machines.

This is a reasonable outcome. The procedure didn’t make sense in this particular case. If we had followed procedure it would have taken time for me to note the three moved machines and taken time for the tracking person to fill out the appropriate forms in SharePoint both “moving” from the room and the back into the same place. This would have been a waste of time with no gain. Not a huge thing but an effort nonetheless.

This is the sort of slavish reliance on regulation that a fearful society embraces, that a tyrant embraces. This is a police officer giving you a ticket for an illegal right-hand turn on red early on a Sunday morning when there is no traffic for miles. This is a student suspended from school for cutting a cookie into the shape of a firearm. This is a society afraid of personal responsibility.

It’s a recipe for tyranny and I don’t like it, much though I love rules and regulations.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

A Power Down Power Struggle

Cell Phones FlightsPlease power down all electronic devices until we reach cruising altitude. Why do we have to do this? Because someone figured that electronic devices might interfere with avionics. Has an electronic device ever interfered with avionics? Not that anyone can prove. Have they done plenty of tests to try and prove that electronic devices interfere with avionics. They sure have and the results are not surprising. No correlation. Do pilots use their tablets in the cockpit? They sure do. Are we losing many hours of productivity (and game playing) because of the ban? That’s an affirmative. Are there anecdotal accounts of a device being correlated to a problem, yes, but they can’t be reproduced in the laboratory.

This is one of those situations where someone got an idea and it spread throughout an industry despite the complete lack of evidence that the idea had merit. Sometimes just because something sounds good doesn’t mean that it is right. I’m not opposed to being a little cautious when it comes to passenger plane service and the original supposition seems to have merit. However, when in study after study they cannot cause an electronic device to interfere with avionics I think the point has been reached where the ban needs to be rescinded.

While I do think that the FAA and the FCC are generally acting in what they think is the interest of safety I also suspect a more sinister motive. They just like telling me what to do. You can bet my Libertarian principles rail against that one. I really don’t mind a little crowd control to keep the unruly in line and I appreciate a traffic officer who keeps the cars moving when the lights are not working. I don’t like a petty dictator who tells me what to do not for the general welfare but because they enjoy the power trip. I think we’ve reached that point.

Originally the ban was all about money. Airlines used to make a lot of money from in-flight calls on their services. Nowadays we can call during flight so that little cash-cow is gone but old habits die hard. Europe is already starting to allow phone operation during takeoff and landing and there have been no incidents.

Basically, there used to be financial incentive to ban cellphones and there remains a bully mentality that forces people to turn them off. It needs to stop. This sort of behavior is a microcosm of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. I’m not opposed to rules, to civility, but I am opposed to rules solely designed to inconvenience. Rules designed to part me from my money. Rules created by the small-minded so they can feel better about themselves.

I leave you with Mr. Emerson: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300 pages of swashbuckling adventure, that’s too good to pass up!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Fired for 1963 Fake Dime Stunt – How Badly Worded Laws Endanger Freedom

Bad WordingThere is an interesting little case in the news today that reminds me how important it is that legislators draft well-worded laws. A fellow by the name of Richard Eggers worked for Wells Fargo as a customer service representative. Way back in 1963 he used a fake dime to do some laundry. He was sentenced to two-days in jail for this crime and served his time.

There is federal legislation in the banking industry that forbids companies to employ anyone convicted of a crime involving dishonesty, breach of trust or money laundering. That’s pretty broad and without an exception for misdemeanors and a statute of limitations it can be used unfairly. One supposes that Mr. Eggers may have been fired for other reasons but let’s ignore that for the moment and focus on how badly worded legislation can easily be abused by aggressive employers and prosecutors.

The law is designed to prevent con-artist type people from gaining employment in the banking industry. The thinking being that such people will dupe investors out of large sums of money and shake the faith in the banking business. I’m just not sure that such a blanket law is useful.

While it seems to make sense that we don’t want such people at banks I think it runs counter to Libertarian ideals. If a person is competent at their job then they should keep it. If they excel at their job they should be promoted. If a person once committed a crime then that should be taken into account when hiring that person certainly, but to eliminate them from consideration because of previous acts, for which they’ve already been punished, seems unfair.

Many of the laws that came out of the financial crisis are intended to ease the minds of the public but do little to actually prevent the activities that led to the problems. Frankly, I’m in disagreement over laws that prevent hiring someone because of previous misdeeds for which they’ve already been punished but that’s really secondary to my main argument.

When laws are passed to try to prevent something they need to be carefully worded. In this law there is wording that allows for a waiver if the crime didn’t involve jail time. It seems to me that it could easily be modified to include misdemeanors even if they involved some minimal sentence.

I don’t think regulatory laws are all bad nor do I think the people who enacted this law meant for it to be enforced in this fashion.

People will always try to twist the exact wording of laws to their own benefit and careful consideration must be made while writing legislation. The problem is that changing badly worded laws becomes quite difficult when getting the law passed in the first place was contentious. As was the case here.

There is no easy answer to problems like this. Badly worded laws are dangerous to the freedom of all free people. They will be abused by zealous judges, prosecutors, employers, law enforcement officials, and others to try to bring about an unjust resolution.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire