Unintended Consequences of Government Regulation
I can’t begin to count the times in recent years when it has been clear how true that statement is. Matt Ross, of Conservative Hideout, has brought it up, time after time. Often times, our government has passed a law or regulation, targeted at a specific problem, only to use that legislation for a purpose completely unrelated to its original purpose. That’s where the unintended consequences of government regulation come into play. What this happens, citizens of this country, who are otherwise completely innocent, are usually the targets. Many times, it is also a business that feels the flame of these unintended consequences. I can think of no better example than the music industry, in general, and Gibson Guitar, in particular.
I have written before about Gibson Guitar and their fight with the Obama administration. You can read those posts here and here. This time, I want to focus more on how this all came to pass. The first culprit was The Lacey Act, passed all the way back in 1900. This bill was enacted to protect certain species of birds who had the misfortune of having feathers that looked really good on a woman’s hat. Throughout the years, it has been used to protect other wildlife from being sold for bounty. One would think this would be a good purpose in life, as we don’t want to kill off all the wildlife, just to make a couple of dollars.
Remember those unintended consequences of government regulation that I mentioned above. Here is where they come in. Fast forward to 2008 and the amendment that was added to The Lacey Act by Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn and Senator Ron Wyden, D-Wash. This amendment was added to protect American companies who use forest products. I’ll let Fox News pick up the story.
American timber companies were being unfairly undercut by foreign sources of wood, many of which were illegally logged. Environmental groups also supported the amendment for curbing illegal logging in rainforests by imposing criminal penalties for trading in endangered species of wood.
It was that same amendment that led federal agents to raid the factories of Gibson Guitars in 2009 and again in 2011 – raids in which substantial quantities of musical instrument-grade wood were seized.
It should be noted that charges have yet to be filed against Gibson, despite repeated requests for the government to either follow through on the case, or return the confiscated wood. To date, the government has done neither.
The raids against Gibson Guitar, and the seizure of their legally obtained wood, have raised great concerns about this being political payback. Given the past actions of the Obama administration, that is very likely the truth. However, there is another side to all of this that needs to be considered. It is more unintended consequences of government regulation.
Just suppose, you have a musical instrument that uses some of the wood in question. What do you think will happen if you are traveling abroad and have to check your instrument back into the United States, when you arrive home? How do you think those unintended consequences will come into play if you don’t have the proper paperwork, detailing when and where your instrument was made? Those are exactly the concerns being voiced by some musicians, professional and otherwise, and rightly so.
Before you try to explain this away by saying the government would never do something like that, let me propose a scenario for you. Considering the recent actions of the TSA, what will happen if you arrive back in the United States, carrying your instrument, and run afoul of an overzealous customs agent? Don’t think that can happen? If the TSA can grope young children, in the name of keeping us all safe from terrorists, do you think a customs agent will hesitate to confiscate your instrument, if they suspect it is on the list of banned woods?
After being questioned by lawmakers, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Fish and Wildlife Service have sent a letter ensuring musicians they would not be thus targeted. Of course, these are the same government agencies who conducted the raids on Gibson Guitar, so who knows how willing they are to follow through and make sure something like this doesn’t happen. Senators Alexander and Wyden have said they will be sending letters to the government agencies, detailing how their amendment was never meant to be used to target musical instruments containing wood harvested before 2008.
Even more troubling is how Alexander and Wyden plan to ease problems and concerns, if they should arise. They would prefer to reduce the confusion and paperwork through administrative regulation. Failing that, they have said they would “fix” the amendment by amending it. Why is it that so many of our political leaders seem to think the only way to fix a problem is to regulate it. If that fails, then they want to amend the regulation. Amendment after amendment, regulation on top of regulation, unintended consequences piling up, and people wonder why we have so many laws on the books. Maybe we should try a new and novel approach. Let’s get rid of some of the laws and regulations and see how that works.