CYA _ The Regulator’s Creed or Just Say No

Regulators/Bureaucrats will always look for a reason to say “No”. First and foremost in their mind is CYA and the best or easiest way to CYA is to  delay, to ask for more information, to pass the buck or , to just say no. Regulations are by design counter-productive, they add to the cost of any product, and they often result in lost jobs. Living in an idealized, risk free, world is not cheap.

Pat Slattery of The Free Market Project is a regular here on Guest Saturday. The other day he wrote an article that touched one of my hot buttons. The article has to do with motivates the bureaucratic regulator. It’s a very good description of a very real problem that comes as a result of big government.

If you’ve ever had to get a permit from the government’s bureaucratic system, then you know what Pat is talking about. The bureaucrat’s principal motivation is CYA. It’s always easier for a regulator to say no than to say yes. Pat gives several examples. Here is one: 

I love the example of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill and the bureaucratic response.  There are numerous examples, like keeping boats volunteering to prevent oil from reaching the coast in port because they didn’t meet all of the safety requirements.  My favorite one was the decision to stop skimmers from picking up the oil because they left too much residual oil in the water they’d filtered and returned to the sea.  They stopped skimmers from taking out 99% of the oil which would cause catastrophe if it reached shore because it left 1% in the water.  To the bureaucrat whose incentive is not to violate regulations on how much residue is acceptable, it is better that 100% is left than 1%.  The bureaucrat is not harmed in the least by saying “no” (only the coastline is) because the bureaucrat’s job is to ensure that water returned to the sea has less than X amount of residual oil.  If no oil is skimmed, they can’t be accused of allowing too much residual oil.

That is a great example. I worked over thirty years in the mining industry and I could write volumes on this subject. One example from my experience with environmental permitting was a $200,000,000 project that was held-up for six months because a Stat of Nevada archeologist found a Prince Albert can on the project site. (For those that don’t know, Prince Albert was a popular tobacco for roll-your-own cigarettes sold in a tin can when I was a boy.) That six moths plus various other permitting delays cost my employer a lot of money.

The CYA syndrome is, i believe, contagious. Specially vulnerable is the health care industry and the pharmaceutical industry. Pat has a great story involving a medical doctor. But here is one about the pharmaceutical industry that I recently tried to explain to my neighbor.

My neighbor was telling me that he was afraid to take some medicines his doctor had prescribed for him. His fear was generated by the description of the possible side effects and the counter-indicationns that came with the medicines. I suggested he should probably rely more on was his doctor says than what the pharmaceutical companies say because they are only trying to CYA and hopefully protect themselves from being sued for millions of dollars if anyone claimed they were harmed by taking the medicine. Tort law. don’t you know.

I’m convinced that bureaucratic regulators see their jog as stopping or at least slow down progress.

I’m sure many of you have your own stories with the bureaucratic regulators. Please take time to share your stories with the rest of us in the comment section. 

8 thoughts on “CYA _ The Regulator’s Creed or Just Say No

  1. I don’t have a story to share with you but I do agree with you assessment that mane regulations are put in place not to protect the consumer but rather to protect those that would offer the ones who would provide the service. It is easier for them to play it safe than to risk anything.

  2. Exactly right, what makes it worse is the litigious nature of our society.

    If you do the right thing, no one will reward you, if you do the wrong thing, they’ll sue you and come down on you like a ton of law books.

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