Legislating Outcomes vs. Legislating Methods

Car Fire

Because black painted cars are the root cause of global warming. /sarc

The story about California’s ban, or attempted ban, on black cars has been out of the news for so long that I’m not even sure what eventually happened in the end. It may still be going, but either way I want to use it to illustrate an idea that I have been thinking about. I can scarcely think of any law that does not either tell you what to do, or how to do it. Where laws fail is typically in telling you to do something that you don’t want to do, or in telling you to do something in ways that generally result in failure. In the case of the black car ban, the law would be telling people how to do something, with preconceived expectations. The problem is, banning black cars does not necessarily have the effect they desired. Black paint on cars does trap slightly more heat in a car, but it doesn’t mean the passengers will attempt to cool it to the same degree that passengers of white cars will attempt to cool their cars. This assumption that passengers of all colors of cars want to equally cool their cars was made without any research on the subject. Another assumption was made in that it is significantly more costly to cool a black car than any other color. I have only one thing to say, have you ever driven a maroon colored car? And the last thing I want to point out about the failure to legislate methods is that it fails to take into account what people do in response to their own environment and resources. In the black car example, if it requires more work to cool a black car, it will cost the driver more, which will disable him from consuming goods and services that themselves would otherwise leave a carbon footprint. So the moral of the story is, when you legislate outcomes, people will meet your expectations if they are reasonable, but when you legislate methods, reasonable or not, they rarely ever will.

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