Monday, November 14, 2011

Complexity of Regulations

The Reps often complain about complex regulations, complain, that is when they aren't complaining about any regulation at all.  Some bloggers have talked about why regulations are complex.  There's probably some truth in all positions, but there was an episode Sunday which illustrates one factor.

Scene: surfing NFL football. A contested call.  The quarterback is standing on his own 1-foot line, he draws his arm back, so the football is over the end zone. He throws the ball and is called for intentional grounding.  Now the rule is, if you're called for intentional grounding while in the end zone (note: I think this was the situation, but my memory is untrustworthy, but the issue is right) it's a safety. 

So the official called a safety.  Then the officials conferred and ended up reversing the call.  The announcers agreed they'd never seen that exact situation, and suggested that the rule book would be changed in the future to clarify that the issue is whether the quarterback is standing in the end zone, not where the ball is.

So that's an example of how regulations grow: you start with a simple rule, then you encounter a situation you've not thought of so you change and add to the rules to cover it.  And things keep on growing. How much of the growth in regulations is accounted for by this process I don't know.  But it's significant, and a factor no one addresses.

[updated with this]  Here's a somewhat related Politico post, on the issue of tomato paste in school lunches. Politico addresses it as an issue of industry influence on regulations, and it is.  But back in the day we didn't have pizza in school lunches.  I'm not sure there was pizza in the 1980's.  Back then the Reagan administration notoriously tried to change the rules to give credit for the nutrients in ketchup (another form of tomato paste) in school lunches.  They got shot down because it was framed as calling ketchup a "vegetable".  It's an example of the same process: if you count nutrients in school lunches, how do you count, and what do you count when you've got pizza or ketchup involved.  The simplest solution is to go back to the school lunches in my day: meat loaf and overcooked vegetables, and only salt and pepper.

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