What Beer Deregulation Can Teach Us
The New Republic's Jonathan Chait, whose first sentence may just explain a lot, has discovered that Jimmy Carter deregulated beer production, adding: "It's worth noting that Carter got no political credit for this move."
Obviously not all deregulation is going to work this way, nor are all matters of regulation as relatively unimportant as beer. But this is a good example of how regulation can crowd out small businesses and local economies in favor of big corporations with ties to powerful legislators. If anything, it should be a reminder that regulation in and of itself is pretty meaningless. While requiring offshore drilling rigs to be equipped with some form of safety mechanism to prevent massive oil spills makes a great deal of sense, many regulations are actually written by the special interests who stand to gain most from their implementation, either by gaining special legal perks or by crowding out competition.
Maybe instead of using regulation or deregulation as starting points, we should look at ways to create more transparency in Washington and more oversight of the regulators themselves. I'm not sure how to close the many revolving doors between industry and Washington, D.C. I'm not sure it's even possible. But when I talk about limiting government, this is partly what I mean – limiting the way that government and special interests (including powerful corporations) work together at the expense of the rest of the country.
Italics mine. I personally find it particularly meaningful that government and industry and (I presume) anti-drinking scolds colluded to criminalize a behavior that wasn't just victimless, but downright awesome; and that the removal of that appalling bit of illiberal nannyism helped usher in a phenomenon I would have bet the house against two decades ago: a thriving and variegated American industry of delicious beermaking.
And given that, what's wrong with making deregulation a "starting point"? Imagine for a crazy moment a world in which the default expectation would be for government not to flop its grotesque belly onto the forehead of various industries, not to meddle in the affairs of pre-pubescent drink vendors, not to redistribute $20 billion a year (give or take) of our money to mostly well-heeled agriculture companies just to make sure they don't face competition from poor people. I'm not talking about no regulation here, but rather the idea that if such-and-such activity isn't hurting anybody it shouldn't be subject to governmental micro-managing, license-imposing, winner-picking, and even arrest.
One of the common misconceptions about libertarian enthusiasm for deregulation is that it's some kind of (presumably paid-for) philosophical cover for wanting the very richest Corporates to be even richester. Speaking as a libertarded conspiracy of one, my favorite bedtime deregulation stories are about stuff like beer, air travel, and talking about politics on radio and TV, where after you lifted restrictions that in retrospect sound like they came from another planet, people do what the normally do when left alone—create all kinds of interesting new artifacts, businesses, and even ways of life. Regulations so often piss me off because they so often fall disproportionately on the backs of the little guy, while the big guy—even/especially the one whose misconduct precipitated the regulation in the first place—walks off with a well-lobbied exemption. Generally speaking, the fewer activities are illegal, the freer us opposable-thumbs types are.