Society is becoming over-regulated

Updated: Nov 9, 2016

Some regulations are excessive or absurd, while others are necessary. In some areas, especially ones relating to health and safety, more comprehensive regulations and stricter enforcement would be desirable.

Society These Days

Does Society Really Need Regulation?

It is impossible to make generalizations about whether society is or is not becoming over-regulated, as all societies require some forms of regulation in order to function, but not all regulations are of equal value. Instead, rather than trying to assess whether society as a whole is "over-regulated", which is too sweeping an assertion to be either proven or disproven, we should unpack the problem of which sorts of regulations are excessive or superfluous and which are needed, and how the issue of the degree to which regulations are enforced is just as important as their existence on the books.

People in the Street

Regulations: from Absurd to Necessary

The first category of regulations we might consider are obsolete statutes that still remain part of the legal code despite having been rendered obsolete by either changing customs or new technology. In Missouri, for example, it is illegal to drive with an uncaged bear in one's car. Other laws date back to the time when horses and carriages were common modes of transportation. More relevant to today's students are what are sometimes called "blue laws" that regulate what is considered moral behavior, including sexual acts, and alcohol and drug use. Many of these, such as those concerning what sexual acts are permitted between consenting adults, are impossible to enforce and anyway seem to many people an intolerable limitation on what should be purely personal decisions. Others, such as the laws against pedophilia, seem to be morally justifiable.

Another category of laws that in some people's view constitute forms of over-regulation are those concerning the private use of alcohol, marijuana, and other addictive or mind-altering substances. While most people would agree that some regulation is needed, especially regulations that prohibit young children from accessing such substances, everything from the age at which people should be allowed to make their own decisions to which substances should be regulated in what manner are matters of controversy. My own position on this is that these substances are both over- and under-regulated. On the one hand, making substances illegal or limiting the days on which one can buy alcohol in stores is ineffective in preventing substance abuse. On the other hand, some forms of regulation, such as laws against drunk driving. have saved many lives and strengthening such regulations along with making public transit affordable and widely available might save even more lives. Legalizing recreational drugs but closely regulating them for quality and safety might also save lives; in this case, I would argue that many drugs are both over-regulated, in so far as personal use is criminalized, and under-regulated in the sense that quality and safety are not adequately monitored.

The "Nanny State"

While many people have issues with what the British term the "nanny state" that regulates many aspects of personal choice or behavior, people's opinions vary on what specific regulations are justified. The attempt of New York City to prohibit the sale of soft drinks in servings of over 16 ounces was eventually overturned but still serves as an example of regulatory overreach. Although drinking a 32-ounce soda is not good for one's health, if someone wants that quantity of soda, that is a matter of personal choice. Moreover, as people could have bought two 16-ounce containers under the law, it would not have been a particularly effective way to encourage healthy eating habits. On the other hand, regulations that insist that accurate nutritional labels be made clearly visible to customers seem a legitimate form of regulation, as such labels allow us to make informed choices about our own health.

What these examples show is that regulations in our society can be either beneficial or harmful. Some regulations are excessive or absurd, while others are necessary. In some areas, especially ones relating to health and safety, more comprehensive regulations and stricter enforcement would be desirable. Food should be safe to eat and water safe to drink. In other areas, though, regulations can be intrusive or even harmful. Thus our society can neither be said to be over-regulated or under-regulated, but rather we can conclude that we should look at each individual regulation on its own merits.

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