Bobby calls me out for treating "proper regulation" as readily available fairy dust--just sprinkle some over your proposed solution to any problem, and enjoy the results:
Logging is the second resource-extraction issue in a week that you've said would be beneficial if it was "properly regulated." The other was your post on fracking. But when I read the words "properly regulated", I mentally substitute in the words "magical ponycorns prevent regulatory capture." So, I read your statements as "...logging, if magical ponycorns prevent regulatory capture, is generally good for the world," and "fracking, if magical ponycorns prevent regulatory capture, is safe."
And I don't necessary disagree with either of those statements, its just that I think that experience from the myriad regulatory failures of the Bush administration has shown that, even in cases where magical ponycorns may briefly exist, all it takes is for a "business friendly" administration to come to power to make all those nasty 'ol job-killing, regulation-loving ponycorns go away.
Proper regulation is great, but I think that, because it so often falls short, it is too thin of a crutch to lean on as a suitable palliative to the ecological damage caused by resource-extraction industries.I've been thinking about this during my many airport visits this weekend, and I agree, but not entirely. I think that "proper regulation" can be interpreted to suggest an optimal framework, but the fact is that every transaction will still have winners and losers--more money for the girl scouts (or cheaper thin mints for us) if the loggers are allowed to decimate the rain forest in Malaysia, increased poverty for workers in the developing world if we impose standards on them that we ourselves ignored at a similar state, when we were clearing all the timber in the country to create space for agriculture and community.
Perhaps better, to take a lesson from Adam Smith:
Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.
"Tolerable" being the key word, and perhaps a better substitute for "proper" than ponycorn . There is so much beyond our control, and the system is so complex, that the character of our regulatory framework seems only a small factor in our future prosperity. If I had to list the top ten factors likely to impact me over the next four years, the policies favored by Barrack Obama or Mitt Romney are not going to make it--and my life is likely to be substantially the same under either as it was during the previous two administrations. I shudder at the prospect of President Romney, as I did at President Bush, but nevertheless.
But that said, there are countries without "tolerable" regulatory frameworks, and that does seem to have a limiting effect on development. It's better obviously, for Nigeria, to have oil wealth, but better still, if they can regulate the industry in a tolerable way, whether it be like Norway, which created a sovereign fund to manage its profits, or the United States, which has environmental safeguards and penalties to prevent and deter accidents.
Anything will work, as long as it satisfies some basic tests of fairness. That doesn't avoid the ponycorn entirely, but it does make it a little less chimerical.