Incoming Gov. Rick Scott's disdain for government regulation appears to be absolute — and absolutely irresponsible. "What's the benefit of a regulation, other than delay?" he asks. • Actually, there can be considerable benefit. There are government regulations that protect the environment, consumers, worker safety, public health and all sorts of values that might otherwise be ignored. Regulations protect residents from collateral damage by more self-interested businesses and individuals. Collectively, they help shape the nature of our communities, protect our families and create some order for Florida.
There are plenty of examples of businesses, large and small, that comply with the rules or choose to do the right thing even if it costs money and the government does not demand it. They protect their workers, build secure structures and respect the environment. But many businesses in the competitive marketplace would not be so mindful of the public interest or the interests of their workers without regulations. And many times, the regulations themselves aren't enough. The BP oil spill and the financial crisis were partially caused by businesses intent on maximizing profits with far less concern for the social consequences and following regulations.
Scott quotes a 2008 study by the conservative Pacific Research Institute that ranks Florida as the 45th most regulated state in the country. But a closer look at the report suggests that the authors were not concerned solely with frivolous or unnecessarily burdensome rules. For instance, some of the regulations the authors used as indicators of reduced economic freedom include whether a state had its own minimum wage laws, its own environmental standards on dangers like lead and asbestos, or even whether a state banned assault weapons. "This report is not concerned with the purpose of regulations, but with the reality that they affect the free allocation of private resources, thus reducing economic freedom," the authors wrote. In other words, the ranking is achieved without considering how much social good the regulations do or how essential they are. As governor, Scott will have to take those tradeoffs into account.
Certainly there are protectionist or frivolous state regulations that can be eliminated to encourage job creation without harming the general welfare of Floridians. But the winnowing should be accomplished with a scalpel, not a bulldozer. Regulation may be a dirty word to many developers and business executives, but regulation serves a far more legitimate public purpose than the incoming governor acknowledges.