Thomas Sowell

Under a headline that said, "Obama May Find Useless Regulations Are Scarcer Than Thought," the Times writers declared that there were few, if any, "useless" regulations. But is that the relevant criterion?

Is there any individual or business willing to spend money on everything that is not absolutely useless? There are thousands of useful things out there that any given individual or business would not spend their money on.

When I had young children, I often thought it would be useful to have a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica for them. But I never bought one. Why? Because there were other little things to spend money on, like food, clothing and shelter.

By the time I could afford to buy a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the kids were grown and gone. But at no time did I consider the Encyclopedia Britannica "useless."

Weighing benefits against costs is the way most people make decisions-- and the way most businesses make decisions, if they want to stay in business. Only in government is any benefit, however small, considered to be worth any cost, however large.

No doubt the Environmental Protection Agency's costly new regulations may somewhere, somehow, prevent spilled milk from pouring out into some street and looking unsightly. So the regulations are not literally "useless."

What is useless is making that the criterion.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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