on the other hand
John mines a few laughs and a salient point from a story about the attempt to regulate yoga. And, it’s true, that story’s pretty funny, and I think John is on the right track with his implied complaints.
Let’s look at a less laugh-inducing example, though: personal trainers. There are no consistent and widely used standards to indicate that a personal trainer knows what he or she is doing. There’s dozens of certifications that are close to meaningless because there’s no real regulatory body maintaining the standard and saying “yeah, this person knows what he’s doing.” Some of the different certifications are given out by people who are pretty rigorous about it; some you can simply pay a fee and get a piece of paper over the Internet. Sometimes, you have both for the same kind of certification, so that one person actually went through an intensive course to get the certification, and someone else just printed it out. The effect is the same; people shopping around for a personal trainer end up looking at sometimes dozens of different types of certification and having no possibly way to make an informed choice.
And there are serious consequences for consumers. Google around a little and you can find hundreds of horror stories– trainers who led their clients to tear their ACLs or break vertebra or rip muscles. There have been a few deaths. The fact that there’s no kind of regulatory body at all and no consistent standards ensures that consumers can’t make informed choices, and that leads to injury. Clearly, even if there were regulations concerning what kind of training and testing was necessary to sell your services as a personal trainer, that wouldn’t obviate the need for consumers to do their homework. You’d still want to look around, to search the Internet, talk to references, etc. But just like the existence of formal regulations for medical doctors ensures (with a vanishingly small number of exceptions do to out-and-out fraud) that the doctor you see will at least have met a certain minimum level of schooling and testing, so some kind of organized, national certification process for personal trainers could help people to choose a personal trainer with at least some confidence.
Yoga isn’t exactly the same, and I wouldn’t want the same kind of certification rules for yoga instructors as for personal trainers. In fact I don’t think that regulation of yoga really makes sense at all, although clearly I’m little qualified to say. The point is, though, that regulation of personal training, at least, is worthy of discussion, and as it’s an issue of protecting people from actual physical harm, I don’t think its passage would signal some sort of creep towards a nightmare regulatory state. Incidentally, regulations that protect people from bodily harm are what a lot of people actually want most from government, and expect most from government, save for the police and firefighting. People like being able to walk into a public building and knowing that there is an assurance from government that it won’t fall down on their heads, or that the electricity won’t suddenly cause a wall to burst into flames.
That’s not the end of the story for whether or not regulating personal trainers is overall worthwhile or consistent with our vision of liberty. But I think it should caution us against taking too broad a view of regulation in the first place; not all regulation is the product of regulatory capture or of bureaucratic inertia. With regulation the devil is always in the details. I’m as opposed to stupid, corrupt or ineffective regulation as anyone. I just want to preserve regulation that is in the public interest. (Which I think John would entirely agree with.)