Thursday, May 25, 2017

Government Regulations and the Law of Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ms. Rabett when still employed worked in a nest of libertarian types who complained about how complicated government regulations were, and how it was stifling business and most importantly how they could make more money without them.  The same folk would wail about how bad government was when something bad happened and there was no law or regulation to stop it. There ought to be a law they screamed.

Now Ms. Rabett is more than somewhat of Eli's disposition or as she would say visa versa and she realized that governments do not always write crazy regulations to pass the time of day, but more often because some outstanding libertarian tries something crazy and goes nah nah there ain't no law agin it.  There are so many regulations because there are so many libertarians out there trying to game the system.

Many years ago, Angry Bear explained the Law of Chocolate Chip Cookies

So the process continues… Eventually, the Army has a spec that indicates even situations that a rational person would say – “This makes no sense. Everyone knows that.” But the rational person wouldn’t realize that when the Army specifies that no sawdust is to be used in making flour, or that no more than X parts of per million of rat droppings will be in the cookie, that the Army has a damn good reason for having that in there, namely that some upstanding leader of the community who waves a flag and is a member of the local Kiwanis actually tried to pass such things off on American military personnel. And of course, that upstanding leader of the community who waves a flag and is a member of the local Kiwanis is happy to lecture one and all about how much more efficient the private sector is than the public sector – exhibit A being the Army’s specs on making a chocolate chip cookie.


David B. Benson said...

And for those who buy their chocolate chip cookies at a neighborhood grocery store?

Russell Seitz / Bright Water said...

" the rational person wouldn’t realize that... no more than X parts of per million of rat droppings will be in the cookie" Then why turn Comments on ?

Too too many EPA types are addicted to the nah nah approach to regulation, and many of their victims do not match Eli's exotic description, as in:

OTOH, there's Pruitt:

Bernard J. said...

Russell, you appear to be falling prey to a logical fallacy. Just because a regulation may fail in the execution doesn't mean that there's not a valid basis for regulation of the issue.


"Then why turn Comments on ?"

Because Eli knows that sometimes Bernard comments too...

William Connolley said...

You and AB have missed the point. AB's proverb is:

1. the gummit tries to buy something
2. at first it is great.
3. then it becomes defective in respect of X
4. the gummit writes a regulation specifying X in excruciating detail
5. things are great for a bit
6. goto 3, substituting X with Y with Z with...

Your motto: regulations are great.

Correct motto: stage 4 was the failure. The correct answer is to go back the supplier and tell them to stop taking this piss. But the gummit can't cope with doing the right thing, so it does the wrong thing.

David B. Benson said...

William, suggest a better way to insure wholesome chocolate chip cookies at the lowest cost.

William Connolley said...

I already did. You're just not able to read it. Have another go.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

@WC - Any organization that wants to solicit bids from multiple potential suppliers needs to specify what it wants. Your replacement for stage 4 is just handing a arbitrary and easily abused power to some bureaucrat.

William Connolley said...

CIP: that's a point, but doesn't match the cookie proverb. For the cookie proverb to be a useful analogy it has to work on its own terms; and it doesn't.

But you are all, desperately, resistant to the real motto of this: that biznis is more agile than gummint. Your answer is always more regulation and to assume that works (see DB's comment, where he assumes that Eli's process gets you what you want at the lowest cost, and is merely looking for a better way. His assumption is wrong, of course).

To semi-quote Hobbes: all law is ambiguous. Adding more words to it just creates more words which are also ambiguous. Hobbes said it better, of course.

Russell Seitz / Bright Water said...

Bernard, that's one reason to look in.

However, "Just because a regulation may fail in the execution doesn't mean that there's not a valid basis for" draconian limits on the arbitrary power of Agencies and thier Regulators to act as if they posessed a mandate to extend and redefine the common law of property. As in tillage & socage , when they seek to regulate fields as fishponds because the rain it raineth every day breeding nondesript invertebrates faster than unregistered voters.

Let em lose and the world will tun into one vast nematode sanctuary.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

WC - Governments are capable of agility, but agility permits tyranny, corruption, and other diseases, which is why we like to restrict them. Real agility (in this sense) is individual rather than institutional.

I think that chocolate chip cookies definitely fit into the spectrum of activities best left to private enterprise but that doesn't mean that they should be completely unregulated.

EliRabett said...

The bunnies did read the link?

"Now, you might wonder – why doesn’t the Army just cancel the contract? Well, there are a few reasons. One is that the cookie maker is well connected, and canceling the contract is going to piss off one the local congressional delegation. Another is – who the heck else is going to make the cookies? How many bakers that can handle that kind of daily volume were there in the middle of Idaho or Alabama in 1952?"

Hank Roberts said...

I recall reading many decades ago about a tskandal at the Port of Seattle. They have these huge silos for different grains and seeds to be loaded on ships to China. Turns out they had one silo loaded with rock fragments. The silo operator had been tasked to mix the crap into the food, to make sure none of the outgoing food was any cleaner than the regulations required. It was a way of making a fraction of a percent more profit on every shipload.

Same thing is done now to market corn that has too much fungus (alfatoxin), by the way.
Yeah, the FDA's regulation does limit contamination to naturally occurring crap levels to rule out mixing crap into food to be able to sell off the concentrated crap by diluting it. But "hey so sue me" the 'ibertarians say.

What Do I Do If Mycotoxins Are Present? - Agriculture and Natural ...
by S Boyles
"..... Minimize the use of moldy feeds by mixing it with good quality feed...."

Regulations specifying the lowest acceptable quality become targets for cheaters.

Problem: businesses don't respect the 11th Commandment, which is "You do too know what I mean."

Hank Roberts said...

Oh, there is a solution.
Thank you, Bill and Melinda.

Hank Roberts said...

Oh, cutesy-pie Google has changed their sign in procedure to remove the checkbox.
They hate it when people sign out, messes up their legitimacy about tracking. A while
back they 'lost' that checkbox 'below the fold' on their page, but they put it back after
complaints. Now they've found another way to hide the sign-out choice.
Google now defaults you to staying signed in, unless you come back here and click
the sign out link. Stay in the herd, sheep.

Or if your response is "bah" you can drag that personalized "sign out" link to your browser toolbar
before publishing a comment.

Bob Loblaw said...

Having worked on the purchasing side of a government bid system, I can tell you that many of the seemingly odd requirements are definitely the result of trying to make sure an immoral vendor doesn't try to sneak one past you.

In the system I work in, there are at least three major approaches to a procurement process:

1. Set mandatory requirements only, and cheapest bid that meets all is the winner. Best for a straightforward item where you know what you want and several vendors make very similar products. You'd better make sure you don't miss something - the specifications never said I couldn't use sawdust or make the cookies 1" in diameter! You only asked for 100 dozen cookies!

2. Set up a points rating system for non-mandatory desires, and rate each bid so that a higher (dollar) bid wins if it provides a better product at good value. (This is usually in addition to having mandatory requirements.) Works well if there is a range of capabilities in a product, and a range in prices. You need to make sure you know what you're doing in establishing the points system - get it wrong and you either pay too much for little gain, or miss out on a much better product for little extra cost. The overly-technically-minded will devise technical points systems for product specifications that bear little relation to what the purchaser is actually willing to pay for them.

3. Set up a points-rating system, and a budget ceiling, and the bid with the highest points still within budget wins. Common for service contracts where you really want to get the best programmer or economic analyst or whatever that you can afford. You really need to be careful about the points system, though, for the usual reasons.

...and every major purchase process requires that the rating system be very clearly specified ahead of time. Change it in mid-stream, and you'll probably end up in court - and paying a losing bidder money for their lost profit, when you awarded a contract to someone that would not have won it if the original rules had been followed.

Now granted, governments often screw up the requirements and waste a lot of money, but a call for tenders with loosey-goosey specifications is a recipe for disaster cookies.

And frankly, William's suggestion that the buyer "go back [to] the supplier and tell them to stop taking this piss" seems extremely naive. If the product meets the specifications stated in the contract, you're going to have to accept the cookies and pay for them, even if you throw them all in the dumpster. Unless you can document non-conformance, you're even going to have a hard time preventing them from bidding on the next contract. The only way to exclude them is to make sure you've got good specifications so that their junk doesn't qualify.

David B. Benson said...

No, William, I said a better way, not just a different way which is sure to lead to litigation, Hobbs or no...

Tom Gray said...

This is why I went to law school and passed the bar, but decided not to practice. Every decision a court writes tells a sleazeball, in essence, hey, if you can figure out how to get around this, you're good. Or at least that is what the sleazeball reads between the lines of the decision. So he/she proceeds with the clever iniquitous work-around, and then the court finds a new way to declare the work-around wrong. But like computer modeling, the new decision never covers all the ways something wrong can be done, because it would have to be infinitely detailed and lengthy to do so, and so the process starts over. Thus every decision contains the seeds of new litigation.

Bernard J. said...

Others have said it above but it bears repeating - simple post hoc appeals to a contractor usually involve waving goodbye to one's money or other original assets. You can probably guess what's wrong with that picture.

And in most sectors these days the baker's dozen is a quaint anachronism.

Dan Crawford said...

Bob Loblaw has it right in the process of procurement. There are lots of roadblocks to quality control as well, some of which AB has described. Often it is Congress that is the root of the problem as well.

Simple statements above about quality control don't cut it...but certainly needs addressed.

Ken Fabian said...

Sure, get more streamlined in the necessary regulating, regularly assess and reassess their necessity and benefit (accepting that costs are involved to do so BTW and doing that kind of assessing is a necessary part of good governance) but the simple "less government regulation" mantra, like "less taxes" is too often more about provoking and mining the predictable responses for political advantage than genuinely pushing for better governance - let alone about better and more ethical, self applied business practices in the absence of regulation.

Better management practices should apply within government as much as within commercial enterprises. When acting ethically and responsibly adds burdens of cost the willingness of many businesses to conflate the warranted regulations with the unwarranted is commonplace in the ongoing efforts to game the system. Climate and emissions would be an example.

Is business always more agile than governments? Certainly for the winning businesses, who don't have the forced sales and bankruptcies and disrupted careers of the failing businesses competitors on their books it will look that way but the failures don't disappear; they stay on the economy's and nation's books. The winners can often win for reasons besides being better and doing things more efficiently, including poaching the best of their competitors' successful ideas and practices (for which the development costs were someone else's burden) suggesting a need for regulations against unfair trade practices.

Certainly there are accountability and other requirements within government that businesses do not that make for "inefficiencies", so direct comparisons are not appropriate, but better management methods can and should be applied as far as possible.

neverendingaudit said...

> Thus every decision contains the seeds of new litigation.

This applies to everyone, including Freedom Fighters who abide by The Constitution of Liberty. It applies even more to them in fact, for only laws protect them. They can't even pretend that market competition will save their asses, as invisible hands are powerless against autocrats who play by market rules.

Those who distrusts Justice shall eat chocolate cake.

Bob Loblaw said...

It appears that drf5n's link is to a real MIL spec that got widespread publicity a few years ago: