Demand effective regulations

Published 7:03 pm Saturday, September 29, 2012

To the Editor:
The recent attention given to the effectiveness of NFL referees suggest an interesting metaphor for the effectiveness of the regulatory process in government. Football referees are hired for the single purpose of regulating play in individual football games. Such regulation is necessary, players feel, to provide a measure of protection from bodily injury in a dangerous sport. Regulation is also needed to ensure a level playing field, making the game more interesting, more entertaining, and more profitable for owners, players and advertisers.
Government, similarly, is responsible for providing a wide range of regulations to protect citizen safety and health, and to ensure a level playing field in which business and industry operate.
Football is highly competitive, at least between teams and among individual players. Yet all concerned give up a certain number of freedoms in submitting to the regulatory process. In order to make the game safer and entertaining, players cannot cross the scrimmage line at will, cannot execute crack-back blocks, and cannot deliver savage blows to the heads of opposing quarterbacks.
Business is also highly competitive, yet finds government’s regulations absolutely essential to doing business. Political party ideology aside, most business leaders simply want the regulatory process to be predictable and even-handed. I suspect most professional football players (and owners) also want predictable and even-handed calls.
The effectiveness of referees, as well as the regulatory function of government, depends on the quality of those performing these functions. Quotes from professional football players in recent days suggests that they would be willing to invest more in the striking referees and get better performance than they are now getting. Our metaphor stands. We would get better governmental regulation if we invested in highly qualified people to make it more effective.
The metaphor is weak in one key respect: the measures for NFL performance are clear and well understood. Government regulation, on the other hand, is driven by murky political processes and compromises. The fix, however, is not to eliminate or paralyze regulation. It is to use our democratic process to demand effective, predictable regulations.
It might involve some whistle blowing.