The Myth of Self-Regulation

No business, product, service or industry can self-regulate. All must and will be regulated by some external entity. The question is who or what?

In a market, regulation is inescapable. Firms are regulated by wholesalers, retailers, capitalists, workers, packagers, shippers, competitors, consumers, shareholders and public opinion. These myriad regulators are exacting. They apply pressure from every angle, on every aspect of business. Get sloppy with your purchasing practices and wholesalers make better deals with your competitors. Overlook product safety and consumers and public opinion slap you down. Make frivolous expenditures and your source of capital and shareholders head for the hills. Drive too hard a bargain with employees and productivity declines or they leave you for another firm.

Firms have room for experimentation and risk-taking, but they have full responsibility to all of these market regulators for the outcome. No firm is a “price-maker” in a market. No firm is a compensation, safety, or policy-maker in the market either. All the parties to which they answer set the terms. Oh sure, firms can do what they want; unless they seek profit. Profit demands that they obey the regulators that fill the market across the whole production chain. It’s not easy.

Firms that have become successful and large tend to get tired of the constant regulation. They want a reprieve from the demands of stakeholders. To gain freedom from the regulating market, firms seek the comfort and stability of government regulation.

Government regulation is nothing like market regulation. It’s yoke is easy for the well-connected and deep pocketed, but often unbearable for the shoestring upstart. Market regulation is blind to size, wealth, political affiliation, slickness, religion or creed. Government regulation is built upon them.

Market regulation keeps an open invitation to anyone who wants to join the ranks of regulators; though promises no one their opinions will have a final say unless they prove worthy across the market. Government regulation is strictly closed off to anyone except those long-loyal to the party in power, and promises that the elite cadre of regulators’ opinion is final and binding. Market regulation is nimble, swift, constantly adapting, inescapable and unrelenting. Government regulation is ham-handed, slow, hidebound, avoided with a little craftiness, and backs off for a favored few with the right mix of political moves.

Market regulation is created and enforced by parties that stand to gain or lose by the actions of the regulated; parties who gain real-world expertise on the regulations effects. Government regulation is created and enforced by parties with no connection to the regulated actions or items, except the few politically connected firms that agitate for it. Market regulation draws on the dispersed knowledge of millions across the globe, from experts to anonymous users. Government regulation pretends a handful of elites can outthink the millions.

Market regulation seeks only the betterment of all market participants, regardless of which firms offer it. Government regulation seeks to destroy some firms for the benefit of others, regardless of what they offer market participants. Market regulation is by the many, for the many. Government regulation is by the few, for the few.

Self-regulation is not an option. The question is who’s a better regulator, markets or government?