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Old 03-24-2011, 12:06 PM   #41
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Originally Posted by jbresee View Post
Profit makes companies make socially bad decisions.
Governments do the same things, but they do it out of incompetence, laziness, lack of oversight, lack of funds, and mismanagement of funds. And governments are harder to sue when they do mess up. Everything listed above is related to oversight and enforcement which, if done properly, keeps problems in check. Poor oversight and enforcement of policies and regulations is a common failing of government.

To wit: Government failure in action
Hundreds of Tampa municipal water customers received ridiculously high water bills a few months ago. The meters were re-read, checked, and the homes were found to be without leaks. Why would a woman's home have a jump up from $77 to $4,317 in a month? Lack of oversight by lazy government supervisors over other lazy government workers who were not actually reading the meters for possibly years. Government meter readers were pencil whipping the readings and ******* off instead of actually getting out and reading the meters. When a new system was introduced and the readers actually had to read the meters the results were off by thousands and thousands of gallons from the pencil whipped guesses that had been previously submitted. No one was fired because they are all union workers and cannot be disciplined (aren't unions awesome?).

Additionally, governments raid the pension funds of government workers to use that "protected" money elsewhere because they are greedy and refuse to do without perks and overspending. Hillsborough County school district here in FL cut programs for the kids because of a lack of funding but was later found to be spending $900,000 per year on cafeteria napkins that were embossed with the Hillsborough County Schools logo instead of plain napkins. School district leaders were also furnished new Ford Explorers to drive every single year.

Moral of the story: Pencil whipping inspection reports, being greedy, and being lazy are human conditions and not a capitalist ones.
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Old 03-24-2011, 12:09 PM   #42
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Your general assumption that "the profit motive is evil" is all wrong.
You also seem to have the underlying assumption that nuclear is "unsafe" (see all the previous discussions).

You also missed the fact that Uranium reactors were developed starting 80 odd years ago, instead of much safer Thorium, because governments wanted a reactor that could breed weapons materials, and funded it. If the evil "for-profit" companies were left to develop the technology, which one do you think the industry would have chosen? Which nuke reactor technology do you think would have spread?

In the presence of healthy free market competition, companies are forced to make their products better and cheaper. The customer is king. The products are also made safer. Look at the evolution of cars - lots of engineering goes into safety, because of market demands. Would cars today be safer if Honda, Volvo, and Ford were non-profit companies?

As for egregious breaches of safety and environmental damage, the market and legal system has mechanisms to ensure this. Insurers have a huge vested interest in ensuring that the companies they insure don't do things that could attract lawsuits. And, prosecuting and jailing company execs for knowingly making reckless decisions would be a very strong deterrent.

If you run a nuke plant as a non profit with safe operation being the only goal, then that goal is most easily met by simply not running the plant at all. What's the point in running the plant?

If you run a company as a "non profit", what is the employees and management's incentive to make their products better? How will their products compete against the competition? How are their prices set?

What about companies that compete on thin margins... For example, the PC industry lives on 5-15% margins. How would turning one of them into a non profit make their products any better than the competition?

A car's brakes are an important safety item. Are 949 or Trackspeed's brakes "unsafe" due to the "profit motive"? Would they be safer if they were compelled by law to make brakes "non profit"? Why would they bother developing brake systems at all?

Last week I had to take my cat to the pet ER. The difference in customer service and cost compared to human ER's was stark. All the pet ER's in the area are run for-profit. Why is the quality of service much better than human ER's which are heavily regulated by the gov't?
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Old 03-25-2011, 01:23 PM   #43
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Corporations certainly aren't perfect. But I'd have to agree that they tend to be less imperfect than government-operated bureaucracies.

It really does all boil down to accountability.

If you are the CEO (or CFO, or managing director, or whatever) of a for-profit corporation, then you certainly are given incentive to maximize profitability insofar as shareholder return. And sometimes, this leads to a very short-sighted vision. Here at Harris, they go through a tremendous rush four times a year, towards the end of each fiscal quarter, to try to "pull" as much revenue as possible into the present quarter. Obviously this is self-defeating as it robs them of what would have been next quarter's revenue, so to me, this kind of behavior typifies the everyday dark side of corporate policy. It happens, it's sub-optimal, and it's not likely to kill anyone.

But on the other hand, you also report to more than just the shareholders. You're accountable to the DOJ, Commerce, the EPA, and the NRC. So your baser profit instincts are tempered by a desire not to be socked with massive fines, prison sentences, civil litigation, etc.

In other words, there is accountability. Lots of it.

By and large, government agencies lack this safety measure. I can't even imagine how I'd go about holding the local drivers license office accountable for anything, much less the Department of Energy. Do you really think it's plausible to mount a class-action lawsuit against the IRS? That's exactly what happened to Pacific Gas & Electric, though, after the Hinkley incident.

Now that I think about it, though, wasn't the whole Chernobyl nuclear power station owned and operated by "a non-profit organization?"

Oh, and anybody who disagrees with me on this point is a gay communist.

Originally Posted by jbresee
Or, nationalize the plants and let the military run them.
This one actually made me stop and think.

It cannot be denied that the navies of the western world have a pretty stellar record when it comes to reactor operation. This option scares me from a political standpoint (I dislike the idea of putting the military in charge of civilian affairs just on general principle) but from a technical perspective, it's hard to argue against the idea.
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Old 03-25-2011, 02:00 PM   #44
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The only effective way for the government to make safety a priority at a profit driven plant is to incentivize safety, or penalize risk. (Thereby making "safety" profitable). The only way to effectively incentivize safety or penalize risk is to base the incentives/penalties on regular inspections of the plants. The inspections will need to be either A: Inspect random parameters of facility operation, picked out of a completely comprehensive list of items, or B: Conduct a completely comprehensive inspection of the facility. The inspections would have to be unscheduled, spontaneous, and quick. Inspectors have to be in and done before management has time to react. To do all of this, the government would have to create and fund another multi-billion dollar regulatory agency with a 3-letter name, and drive us further into debt.


We could throw out ALL of the nuclear power plant regulations, and have a group of nuclear ENGINEERS redesign those regulations. Regulations put in place by politicians are simple fear-mongering. I also want well-paid engineers at the head of any gov't organization that regulates permits for these plants.
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Old 03-26-2011, 04:31 PM   #45
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Originally Posted by joe perez View Post
corporations certainly aren't perfect. But i'd have to agree that they tend to be less imperfect than government-operated bureaucracies.

It really does all boil down to accountability.

Originally Posted by fooger
incentivize safety, or penalize risk
That's what the courts are for.
Did you also know that there are industry safety regulations?
UL is a great example... when was the last time you heard of a power supply catching fire or electrocuting a user?
Do you think a Japanese government run nuclear reactor would have been safer?

Now you gotta ask, where are the indictments for the BP oil spill? Where is the investigation to figure out if any execs knowingly made decisions that are known to the industry as excessively risky? What were the regulators doing in the events leading to the massive spill?

Answer: That's not an indication of the "evil of corporations". It's an indication of the failure of gov't. Perhaps the right guys are buddies, or got paid off, directly or indirectly.

Let's take the case of Enron. It wasn't one of the members of the army of SEC regulators that discovered the malfeasance. It was a private short-seller, who pores through financial reports to find out which companies are good buys and good sells. He saw the rot, shorted the stock, then blew the whistly.

2008 financial meltdown? It wasn't due to the free market. We don't have a free market in currency. The Federal Reserve has a gov't licensed monopoly to print money - this money got leveraged to the hilt by the huge financial institutions, who weren't afraid of the risk because they knew they would be protected by gov't, as being "too big to fail".
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Old 03-26-2011, 04:34 PM   #46
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Critical thinking: How to think about regulation


How to think about regulation

Millions of people believe . . .

We need the government to regulate business people, otherwise they will run wild, laying waste to the environment, and selling us bad food, bad drugs, and harmful products.

It would be silly to claim that business people never do these things. After all . . .

* Not all people are good.
* Neither are people who are mostly good, consistently good.
* And sometimes goodness has nothing to do with it -- sometimes people simply make mistakes, out of ignorance or carelessness.

But politicians and bureaucrats are people too, and subject to these same failings. Do we really solve the problem of human imperfection by giving one small group of imperfect people vast power over all the others?

That last sentence is so important that it bears constant repeating:

Do we really solve the problem of human imperfection by giving one small group of imperfect people vast power over all the others?

To this we might add, "Is there any form of human being more imperfect than the politician?"

To give this question its proper weight, do not think only about politicians you love (if there are any). Do not cherry-pick the evidence. Instead, think also of the politicians you hate. Should such people have great power over other people?

We think a strong case could be made that the worst politicians, and the worst bureaucrats, have done far more harm to humanity than the worst business people. In fact, this simply has to be true for the simple reason that the power scales are so vastly different . . .

* Politicians and bureaucrats have a monopoly over the use of coercion.
* They also have access to vastly greater resources than even the largest businesses.
* And they cannot be easily fired, unlike a business.

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Old 03-26-2011, 04:34 PM   #47
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You can refuse to trade with Wal-Mart, or Microsoft, or Exxon, but you cannot refuse to submit to anything that the politicians and bureaucrats tell you to do. You can easily walk out of Wal-Mart and go to K-mart or Target, or a host of other stores, but you cannot easily fire a bureaucrat or a politician.

Given this, isn't it reasonable to ask . . .

* Can anything other than politicians and bureaucrats regulate how business people behave, and if so . . .
* How do these non-state sources of business regulation compare to the regulations politicians and bureaucrats provide?

Consider the following points . . .

Consumers regulate businesses.

Consumers punish every business that provides a bad product or service. They also spread the word about bad companies to other consumers. Many consumers will even refuse to do business with companies that harm the environment. This form of regulation is enshrined in the proverb "The customer is always right."

Because "the customer is always right" investors and lenders also regulate business owners.

They do this to protect their investments from potential retaliation by dissatisfied customers. Sometimes this regulation involves direct oversight, and sometimes it involves the purchase of insurance, which then leads to this . . .

Regulation by insurance companies.

Unlike the politicians and bureaucrats, insurance companies have their own money at stake. This motivates them to regulate the companies they cover. One approach to this is product-testing through organizations like Underwriter's Laboratory. Insurance companies will only cover products that test safe.

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Old 03-26-2011, 04:34 PM   #48
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Legal liability also regulates businesses.

This liability is determined through due process in a government court, but it differs from government regulation in a crucial way. Government regulation attempts to prejudge which products and services may be harmful, and to dictate how this danger must be mitigated, in advance.

This sounds good, but there are serious problems with it, as you will see below. By contrast, legal liability presumes that a product or service is innocent until there is evidence of harm. This is the commercial equivalent of the principle we know so well from our criminal law, innocent until proven guilty.

The above points expose a bit of commonly believed mythology, that a completely free market is also completely free of regulation. Clearly, nothing could be further from the truth. A free market actually has multiple levels of regulation. In fact . . .

It is inherently impossible to have a de-regulated society, for the simple reason that consumers, investors, lenders, and insurance companies will always take steps to control what businesses do, even if the state does nothing.

Taking notice of these overlooked facts allows us to think more clearly, and to refine the questions we need to answer . . .

* Does the state have a role to play, beyond providing a court system for determining legal liability when there is evidence that a product or service causes harm?
* Do we really need politicians and bureaucrats to craft regulations that prejudge whether a product or service is potentially harmful, and that dictate how this risk must be mitigated?

Answering these questions depends on how you respond to concerns that are even more fundamental . . .

* Will the politicians and bureaucrats who devise these regulations be liable for the mistakes they make, in the same way that businesses are held liable by consumers, investors, lenders, insurance companies, and courts of law?
* Can you fire politicians and bureaucrats who regulate incompetently?
* Will politicians and bureaucrats have to personally pay the cost of any harm they cause, the way businesses must?
* What do you do if politicians and bureaucrats abuse their power of regulation in order to reward friends and punish enemies?
* What recourse do you have if politicians and bureaucrats use their vast power and resources to serve their own selfish interests?

These are powerful questions. But they are really only a more detailed way of asking the question we began with:

Do we really solve the problem of human imperfection by giving one small group of imperfect people vast power over all the others?

We would humbly submit to you that the answer is no. The real problem is NOT how to better regulate businesses, but rather, how to better regulate the politicians and the bureaucrats.

* They are the monopoly.
* Their power of coercion is inherently dangerous.
* They have vastly more resources than businesses.
* They are vastly more difficult to control.

Last edited by JasonC SBB; 03-26-2011 at 04:45 PM.
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