Regular Regulations

The history of business is in many ways a history of increasing regulation. Back in the 19th century, when people first started to think about business in a systematic way, firms were fairly free, having completed the legal procedures for setting up, to pursue their activities without intervention from governments. However, in the first half of the 20th century, states began to regulate a number of industries (e.g. finance, which is now seen as a classic "regulated" industry, in which professionals have to be suitably qualified and approved by the various regulatory authorities) and activities (e.g. monopolies), essentially to protect consumers. And so it has continued to the present day, with government regulation extending into more and more areas of business. Indeed, regulation of business is now seen as the normal situation, with little to stop it increasing.

One reason for this is that the world has become more complex. Technology is both a benefit and a potential danger. However, there are other reasons why, despite governments now promising to reduce regulation and the associated costs, which of course eventually are borne by consumers - indeed to have "bonfires" of regulations - it may be difficult to achieve this. In particular, it goes back to the well accepted view that, for both individuals and society in general, losses weigh more heavily in the mind than gains. So if a regulation is scrapped, many people may gain, but inevitably someone may lose. On a very basic level, no one wants to be responsible for removing one of those pesky "health and safety" requirements, because someone else might just be the one to suffer as a result.


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