Whenever the government offers the poor man a helping hand, he might better serve himself by slapping it away. Uncle Sam can be a meddlesome coot. Nanny state regulations to guide and protect the underserved usually do them considerable harm.
A Mercatus Center study by economist Diana Thomas finds that safety rules proposed by federal bureaucrats tend to reflect concerns of the relatively wealthy, not the actual needs of the poor. The poor are inevitably stuck paying a disproportionate share of the cost for something that won’t make them safer.
The highest risks of the poor often depend on where they live. It’s obvious that more expensive neighborhoods are safer; the poor would be delighted to live safer and better if they could only afford to. A good neighborhood sharply reduces the risk of death or injury to children. Moving across the Potomac River from Washington to Northern Virginia, according to the FBI, would reduce by 84 percent the chance of becoming the victim of a violent crime. But the wealthy already live in safe neighborhoods, which is why the federal busybodies focus their regulatory mania on low-level risks, often inspired by sensational news headlines.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, for example, has a rule pending to require all new cars and trucks to be equipped with backup cameras, with the picture appearing on expensive video screens in the dashboard. This would reduce the likelihood of inattentive drivers backing into pedestrians, but such accidents are the cause of fewer than 1 percent of all traffic fatalities. Such cameras in every car will cost a collective $2.7 billion, and it’s not at all clear the cameras will actually reduce accidents.
The Mercatus study suggests a more effective way to improve the lives of the poor. Regulations cost poor households up to eight times the share of income compared to high-income households. In a world without unnecessary regulations, low-income households could afford to reduce their risks for as little as one-fifth the cost of public regulations.
The federal nannies aren’t interested in choice; they want to control how everyone lives. Backup cameras are an option already in many cars and trucks, readily available to those who want them — and can afford them. That’s not good enough for the nannies who don’t trust the individuals to decide for themselves whether that “free” camera for the rear of the car is worth it.
Everyone, rich and poor, gets socked for such rules. Thousands of regulations are on the books already, and the financial burden adds up quickly, affecting everything from the price of a backup camera for the new car to the price of a can of butterbeans. Requiring the disadvantaged to pay for what they don’t need and might not want leaves them unable to afford the things that would actually improve their lives. Sequestration of government spending is good, but a moratorium on unnecessary federal rules would be even better.
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