Our regulatory state is failing us

You don’t think airlines can just provide hand sanitizer to passengers, do you? On Tuesday the FAA wrote to American Airlines granting permission, and the letter they sent (.pdf) offers a window into process the airline had to go to in order to secure the government’s blessing.

Tuesday’s correspondence came from the FAA’s American Airlines Certificate Management Office in Irving, Texas. Imagine having a local office of a federal agency dedicated to your business, with its own letterhead.

American wanted permission to provide “personal use quantities of hand sanitizer gel and sanitizing wipes to customers prior to boarding and/or distributed during flight.” That means there would be hand sanitizer on the aircraft, and that falls within the FAA’s jurisdiction.

Before writing for permission, a team from American Airlines held two separate meetings with FAA inspectors, from two separate FAA offices – the airline’s direct regulators in their certificate management office, and also with the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety. The purpose of these meetings was “to discuss the 14 CFR part 5 required safety risk assessment” required to have hand sanitizer on board.

Passengers and crew are permitted to carry hand sanitizer, consistent with 49 CFR §175.10. And shippers can carry hand sanitizer, consistent with 49 CFR §173.150(g). For the airline to carry and distribute it, though, 49 CFR §175.8 (a)(4) requires permission of the Administrator of the FAA.


The FAA issued a finding that American’s proffered plan to offer hand sanitizer to passengers “meets conditions for FAA approval allowed in 49 CFR §175.8 (a)(4).” Even so, the specific products that the airline sources for use must be “approved by the AA Chemical Review Board (CRB) to meet the above CFR limitations and will be tracked on an internal reference list.”

Furthermore, permission is contingent on “mitigations and procedures included in the AA RWM ‘Corp SMS and Team – 200512- 01 / Hand Sanitizer in Amenity Kits and Snack Bags’ [being] “completed and complied with.” Any deviations require advance coordination with the dedicated FAA Certificate Management Office for American Airlines “prior to any further flights that provide personal use quantities of hand sanitizer gel and sanitizing wipes to customers.”

A small matter, yes, but indicative of the larger whole.  Here is the full post from Air Genius Gary Leff, via Lama.


Tyler seems to be getting more passionate about this issue, judging by the quantity of posts regarding it. So the question is: which presidential candidate has a track record of reducing the number of government regulations? Which one is less likely to do the same? To what extent are you willing to put aside your self-image and image among your peers to take substantive action on this issue?

China rests 6.5 million residents

We will loose this war because we are too fat and stupid and complaining!

it seems that the FAA had already studied this in connection with hand sanitizer in airplanes during the H1N1 virus in 2010 and concluded it was not a safety hazard in airplanes.

we think you mean not a fire hazard

Well that explains the quick response this time then!

Of course it's a safety hazard. As your Boeing 737 Max bursts into flames the hand sanitiser just adds to the conflagration.

+1, British wit

They’re so busy regulating hand sanitizer on airplanes they forgot to regulate the planes

You unwittingly demonstrate the complexity of the issues at stake.

In the Boeing 737 Max case, the problem was that Boeing took advantage of regulatory provisions that existed precisely to avoid airplane manufacturers having to go through years of painstaking approval processes every time they want to upgrade one of their existing planes. The problem isn't that FAA didn't do its job -- it is that there are trade-offs and as long as regulators do not micromanage the businesses they oversee and instead place some trust in them, people like you will jump at the opportunity to mock them when things go wrong. That sets up a rather perverse set of incentives for the future.

Libertarians have this notion that regulators go around telling businesses what brand hand sanitizer they can use, what color they have to paint which part of their product, etc. The reality is that regulations often simply require disclosure and proof of due diligence. Companies can lie or cut corners when they do due diligence (just as they can cheat on their taxes) but they open themselves up to the possibility of future punishment if they do so.

+1, An adult in the room.

Phooey! Adults ruin the fun

Wouldn't Boeing have been incentivized to make the safest plane possible with or without regulation in the 20's as well as today? Airlines don't want to purchase airplanes that have problems, get grounded and lose money (like Southwest's current situation.) The problems with the 737 MAX has badly damaged their reputation and lost them existing orders with no new orders in the pipeline. I would expect them to naturally try to avoid this problem happening again in the future otherwise the company will not survive (nor should it.)


Internet comments on an economics blog shape the regulatory decision making incentives of the FAA ? In the words of Joe Biden, come on man!

Again what we actually have is a regulatory agency. This agency has a core mission: to not allow shit like the 737 Max.

But that’s hard. So they focus on everything else. Like hand sanitizer.

"So the question is: which presidential candidate has a track record of reducing the number of government regulations?"

Is it the same one whose tax records have become state secrets?

So much ink spilled over Orange Man's tax records from when he was a private citizen, but not a word about the "donations" to the Clinton and Biden non-profits.

We don't need to see the tax records of millionaire private citizens who became public servants, we need to see the tax records of public servants who somehow became millionaires while in office.

Trump has continued to withhold his tax returns even into his presidency. It matters if he is using his office to grift, as is often alleged.

When someone alleges Orange Man is using his office to grift, it's a serious question that requires further investigation.

When someone alleges that any leftist politician is using his office to grift, it's an unfounded conspiracy theory.

Remember, the leftist operatives in the media can't even use their favorite phrase, "without evidence", here, as there's pretty compelling evidence that, for example, Gropin' Joe was using his office to enrich himself and his family through deals in China and the Ukraine. But no one is ever going to demand to see his tax returns.

When are you people going to admit that this is just a way to punish people who stand up to the racket being run on you in Washington? Are you too dumb to see it or are you profiting yourself from it?

I sense relatively little sympathy on the left for Democratic politicians such as Bob Menendez, Rod Blagojevich, and Edwin Edwards. Donald Trump, on the other hand, went out of his to give his moral support to the first, commute the sentence of the second, and is apparently friends with the third. He also pardoned the person who paid a $400k bribe to Edwards.

He seems to have a bizarre degree of sympathy that transcends partisanship for sleazy politicians. I don't understand it myself but it is a weird pattern. A more traditional partisan Republican would denounce the whole lot as proof of a corrupt Democrat establishment. Trump seems drawn to these people, as long as they don't criticize him in public.

"Gropin' Joe was using his office to enrich himself and his family through deals in China and the Ukraine. But no one is ever going to demand to see his tax returns."

Biden's 2018 tax return https://go.joebiden.com/page/-/vpdocs/Biden%202018%20Amended%20Federal.pdf
2017: https://go.joebiden.com/page/-/vpdocs/Biden%202017%20Amended%20Federal.pdf
You can find all of them for the last 21 years here: https://www.taxnotes.com/presidential-tax-returns

Trump has yet to produce any tax returns. His excuses for doing so keep changing. W know he personally profits off of US taxpayer funds. We know he personally profits from foreign government payments. We just don't know which ones and what they are getting in return.

Well, might be Tyler showing his hand a bit. But in reality the question isn't deregulation to get hand sanitizer onto the planes. It's more about does the airline get to provide the individual use (and then charge for the second bag?) of their choice or will the FAA and CDC mandate a specific approved sanitizer the airlines must make available in the restrooms for everyone to use.

Trump has reduced regulations in some areas and increased regulations in other areas. He’s not better on regulation overall. The number of regulations metric is meaningless as some regulations can be much more impactful than others.

Nice dodge. So which impactful regulations do you think Joe Biden will remove?

I could see Joe Fighting for China's right to ignore more environmental regulations so donors can continue to arbitrage cost benefits of ignoring them while manufacturing (for example) iPhones with children and slaves.

So there's that . . .

Easy to imagine Biden repealing CMS rules allowing Medicaid work requirements, thereby freeing Medicaid applicants of that extensive burden, and Section 8 rules for rationing housing vouchers, as Section 8 moved to entitlement status. Also, silly tariffs (no, they aren't all 'national defense'), some immigration bans. Can also imagine Feds using transportation funding power to encourage states to cut back on Nimby housing restrictions, cutting funding to states that impose heavy documentation/lengthy processing of unemployment benefits (i.e., FL), use fed litigative power to attack abortion restrictions and voting suppression, fund better voting infrastructure to reduce admin burden associated with voting lines, lack of non-on-site options, etc. A public option for health insurance would allow people who wanted o do so to lock in a long term insurer and thereby reduce the burden associated with switching insurers as they come, go, change--regulatory burdens imposed by private parties matter too.

That's an ambitious anti-regulation agenda. As usual, it is about whose ox is regulated. Voting is way over-regulated in some states. One would even think some people had a political agenda.

Commercial aviation is heavily regulated. It was part of the deal that convinced Americans that it was safe to fly in the 1920s. It was also part of the deal that makes aviation insurable. More seriously, the airlines wanted regulation to make sure it was profitable to fly. (In this way, they were like cab drivers or lobster men.) The airlines wanted regulation:

"It may seem ironic to 21st Century Americans, but what Trippe and his Republican friends feared most from a Democratic Administration was de-regulation of the airlines. The last thing Juan Trippe wanted was the overturning of the complex aviation regulations he had written or had had written for Harding and Coolidge and Hoover and their replacement with free market rules that would allow upstart airlines to chew away at Pan American Airways’ own monopolistic hold on U.S. foreign air routes. "

That's from an article on the machinations of aviation business pioneer Juan Trippe (https://flyingcloudschinaclippers.blogspot.com/2016/05/juan-trippes-new-deal.html). Trippe ran Pan Am and was one of the pivotal founders of modern commercial aviation.

It's easy to joke about airline regulations, but an awful lot of them have blood and burning avgas on them. Read an issue of Flying. Pilots still believe in the sky gods and know that they need little tempting.

(If you want to build your own airplane out of a household fan, a garage door and a battery pack, go ahead. Just write "experimental" on it and don't carry paying passengers.)

A lot of Trump’s regulations on immigration and immigrant workers and businesses, for one.

That's what a few dozen regulations? The Federal regulatory code grows by roughly an extra 3 books per year (750 page) at this point.

235 volumes of regulation as of 2013. there were 13 in 1950.


In terms of pages, immigration is maybe not a big issue, but in terms of impact, it’s probably one of the areas of regulation that has the most substantial impacts on the largest numbers of people.

Most other regulations are dealing with some obscure situation that has no impact on anyone but industry lawyers.

Clearly immigration doesn't have the "the most substantial impacts on the largest numbers of people." It only effects immigrants. Any new mileage EPA rating for vehicles impacts far more people. Trade regulations can and do effect a vast portion of the economy. Regulations on the internet (net neutrality,etc) effect nearly everyone. Energy Star additions have effected a vast amount of energy consuming devices sold in the country for decades. The ethanol mandate effects the contents of every gallon of gasoline sold in the country. Etc.

The FRC is vast and impacts everyone to a significant degree. It grows by over 2000 pages per year.

"immigration ... only effects immigrants" Nope. Economists have estimated that a world of free movement would be $78 trillion richer, sounds pretty big to me.

Only Stoics are true citizens of the world, and to them wealth is an indifferent thing.

Everyone else has to calculate costs and benefits with reference to the fact that human beings are zoon politikon in addition to being homo economicus.

“Economists have estimated....” please, such a shallow prop up

National security isn't a regulation. And as J-Dubs said, "don't come here, we're full" is a lot simpler than determining whether a liquid that gets sold in tiny bottles on the airplane can be carried on as a disinfectant.

So which impactful regulations do you think Joe Biden will remove?

I'll take 'emergency' tariffs imposed by executive fiat for $100 Alex.

Again, national security isn't a regulation. And tariffs, unlike the myriad other pies the government has its fingers in, is explicitly allowed in the Constitution. It's been a while since I was in school but I don't recall anything in there about hand sanitizer on airplanes.

Lol, yes, when partisanship causes you to make an economically indefensible distinction, let's fall back on the wisdom of the writers of the 3/5ths compromise.

Right, I forgot that a bunch of old white slaveowners wrote the Constitution so therefore it's selectively invalid when it's not advantageous to promote leftist causes.

If anything, I suspect Biden will expand the use of emergency tariffs. They'll just be for 'climate change' rather than 'pandemics.'

Yes vote Trump I too can not distinguish between government regulations which are good and government regulations which are bad they are all literally the same and therefore I vote for the man who cancels clean air regulations as a favor to zombie coal mining interests.

Having trouble understanding the argument. All's well that ends well, no?

I can believe that you are having trouble.

"Our regulatory state is failing us"

For me, the thing that tripped me up was 'is'...as in present tense. Did a double-take and then realized Tyler has been slow to arrive at one or two conclusions. Then it all made sense.

1) seen and unseen. How many groups/firms every day run into similar issues and don’t have the bureaucratic navigation expertise that American Airlines has?

2) on the margin, how often do firms decide not to implement mitigation measures at all because it’s so difficult to jump through the bureaucratic hurdles?

3) this is indicative of the whole. Anything less than “perfect” is banned. CDC doesn't have concrete evidence masks help? Issue guidance to the public to not wear or purchase masks. Sophisticated university labs can test, but slightly different procedures? Banned, can only use CDC tests, etc etc

How many companies moved their production offshore because they could get rid of 60% or more of the regulatory burden?

"Anything less than “perfect” is banned." unless it's a supplement in which case it is totally acceptable to sell grass clippings and call them vitamins.

But how long did the process take? I assume it was days, not weeks. If this matter was efficiently (in the eye of the beholder) handled, what's the problem?

...well, alcohol is flammable, so I’d think there should be a plan to safely store and handle it on a big metal tube in the sky

and after one of those tubes crashes in a ball of flames after a case of retail packaged sanitizer gets sparked while being stored in the galley, tyler can write another post about how the regulatory state is failing to keep us safe

Sure, because packs of hand sanitizer are way, way more dangerous than small bottles of alcohol. /sarcasm

For hand sanitizer to work it needs to be 140 proof you dumbass.

You seem to be trying to get to a point.

Next to the whiskey?

As an esteemed commenter noted in an earlier post today that without federal regulations regarding hand sanitizer on airplanes millions of people would die in car crashes because no one outside of DC would think of putting headlights on vehicles.

How can you be so selfish Tyler!

If cars or for that matter bicycles were just being introduced today, I suspect the Federal regulatory roadblocks would be insurmountable.

Personal automobiles would never be permitted in today's regulatory environment.

16 year old children driving 10,000 pound vehicles down a public road at 70 miles per hour. No way.

What a dumb argument you could say that about any new product that's made it's way through valuable cycles of regulation to help protect the common good. Here's one - How about iPhones?! Little tracking devices that let private corporations record your every move to sell you stuff. Give me a break.

Comparing the intrinsic deadliness of a personal automobile with an iPhone seems like a huge stretch. What other product that's as dangerous as a car, or private plane, etc has been newly permitted over the last 20-30 years?

As a governed society, we are far more risk adverse than we were even 40 years ago.

What data do you have on what's been prohibited? Is it actually a regulatory state or just your bias telling you that's why you're not zipping around with a jet-powered backpack?

Private rockets.

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic hasn't been held up by any regulatory approvals from what I can tell. I believe it even got legislation passed that limits its liability in case of accidents, similar to the protections already enjoyed by cruise ships and airlines. And SpaceX is carrying astronauts for the first time ever in just a few hours. These companies have moved slowly due to concerns over PR (and perhaps even morality) if they were to experience a fatal crash too soon after starting to carry humans. Regulators seem to have been more than willing to let these companies take reasonable risks.

SpaceX makes rockets similar to the ones from the 50's and 60's and it's a highly regulated and permitted process. So, that's not really an exception to the rule.

Regulation is rarely the problem. Next time you unbox a smartphone, look at the little booklet you usually throw it. It will have a "radio" section for its Bluetooth, WiFi and cellular radios. Without that regulation anyone could use any frequency any way he or she wanted - freedom - but that smartphone unusable as a communications device. Multiply this by all the libertarian cursed communications agencies around the world, and it's a pretty impressive device that can work just about anywhere in the world with a suitable SIM card.

Internet tells me I can buy a wingsuit.

+1, that may actually be a winner. Assuming a private citizen in the US can buy and use one without more difficulty that getting a drivers license.

So .. which do you believe the average punter wants, a better FAA, or (libertarian fantasy) no FAA?

Which do you floppy, I mean slappy, self-selected not-at-all-representative sample of non-average punters want?

I certainly hope that Tyler is sane enough that he wants a better FAA, and this is a Strausian innovation.

Meant to say Straussian Invocation.

Most nefarious endeavors have a natural limit. Bureaucracy has only one, the failure of the state. Then the bureaucrats do just fine; see Russia.

Industries like the airlines want an FAA; it is a difficult thing to get right, and having a third party helps. All industries when they reach a level of maturity set up some kind of standards body, it allows for a competitive market within a set of specifications. The engineering documents that I get from the standards body are about lessons learned; these safeties or procedures prevent this type of incident.

But there is the possibility of the nefarious. The standards are considered law in most jurisdictions; in my industry the provincial addition to the industry standards are fee schedules. To be on the standards committee in some cases is simply by writing a check, so someone can write laws by paying an entrance fee. Someone pays a sum of money and you and I are forced to comply.

I've quite pleased that the regulatory structures are being viewed with a gimlet eye right now. These organizations need to justify their existence. This is healthy.

I think you wrote a really nice piece, and then a conclusion at odds with it.

"These organizations need to justify their existence."

Do they? Or do they need to refactor their requirements and foci for changing conditions?

Every institution needs to continually justify it's existence. That is how they stay relevant and useful.

Have you ever seen underground economies develop as a result of ridiculous regulation and regulatory practice? I have, and it is extremely corrosive.

The Quebec construction industry had a structure of regulations purported to protect workers, consumers and the public, but was so onerous and illogical that it was said that 55% of the industry was underground, meaning that workers weren't protected, building quality was terrible and government got no revenue. They were forced by economic circumstances to reform the regulations. My father worked in that industry. It was absurd. They could not justify their existence.

I suspect that much of the offshoring from US and Canada is directly the result of onerous regulatory costs. I consider that a catastrophic failure.

"Every institution needs to continually justify it's existence."

Well, what helps make *better* institutions, calls for change within them, or impotent calls for dispansion?

People on the libertarian end of the spectrum love to say "end the X", but seldom call for specific changes. When the X isn't ended, all we've had was a waste of energy on both sides, and no improvement.

(It's not like the need for headlights, sewer systems, or safe aircraft has gone away. It's just that in each area new technology and needs come into play.)

Regulators who based risk weighted bank capital requirements on expected credit risk, that which banks should clear for on their own, and not on misperceived credit risk, or unexpected dangers like COVID19, of course failed us. Our banks now stand there naked.

Hand sanitizers is small bore. What's shocking is the way airlines are herding passengers into crowded aircraft. May those passengers not enter into Cowen's air space or mine.

Yes, but you're missing the point: that would put blame on the airlines themselves, whereas the point of this series of posts is to blame federal regulatory agencies (and we all know that the free, competitive, non-collusive airline market could never converge on an equilibrium that endangers public health unless there's an intrusive federal agency at fault).

sounds like they are trying to define/manage the risk of small volumes of
dangerous liquids in passenger cabin and flight decks of airplanes

Sounds reasonable to me. 25 random people bringing their own sanitizer vs. 300+ people all doing it at once in an enclosed space? I sure would want that closely looked at before proceeding.

Rocket Man himself will propel men into space tomorrow afternoon. Will the "commercial model" for space exploration succeed? Elon Musk is the modern day Howard Hughes, who was known as a great risk taker in flight, only to come down to earth and live in fear of bugs and things that go bump in the night. Are these two eccentrics on the same path?

Well, that’s the same governmental agency that still requires airlines to instruct passengers on how to use a seat belt. And to give the instructions AFTER all passengers have been asked to fasten their seat belt.

Looks to me like regulation is conceived for normal times. If in fact airlines had to postpone carrying hand cleanser in normal times, the cost would not be high. During a viral pandemic, the cost of postponing even for a day could get very high. For this the regulatory system is not equipped, as the bureaucrats would have to bear more risk.

Well said Dismalist. The first rule of bureaucratic risk management is manage the risk to the bureaucrats.

The criticisms of our regulatory state are failing us.

The general failure of public choice to account for private capital power and historical malfeasance comes to the fore in inane comments like this. What disturbs you is the uninformed annoyance of 'why do they have to go through this process?' Not the intent (easy to figure as many commentators did above) nor perspective on how processes like this develop (often with the preference of the regulated entity to make regulation easier to determine and follow).

So, without background or nuance, this 'complaint' is mood affiliation, nothing more.

This new slogan is mood affiliation distilled and an example of one of the lazier modes of thinking on this generally good blog.

TBS, COVID has exposed many ways in which institutions are dysfunctional, or at least under-prepared for a sudden shock. But the slogan implies a systematic, fundamental or common failing which has not been at all been demonstrated here.

I've long been a critic of needless regulation in construction and development - restrictions on materials, restrictions on zoning and living arrangements. Of course there are plenty of examples in other fields. But the real question - the economic question as well - is undue restriction compared with what? In a heavily litigious society, as well as people simply wanting to do the right thing for protection of themselves and customers, what is the prudent thing to do? If these meetings took weeks of procedural time and many hours of staff time, one can make an undue restriction argument. In light of the threat of useless product from China, is it prudent to not figuratively just run down to walmart and clean out their stock of sanitizer? Can regulations be expedited in an emergency? Yes. Is that sometimes not the case? Yes. What is the alternative, other than common sense, which is really not an answer at all. Prudence is what Aristotle recommended.

In a heavily litigious society. Yes. In a society and media environment that is obsessed with blame. More so. And is obsessed with blaming "the government". Even more so. You asked for it.

Not quite sure what the "even more so. You asked for it" refers to. But I do think our ability to quantify results and forecast outcomes has a lot to do with blame. When we could not quantify, it was harder to assign blame. And the blaming is certainly of the government, but also business. Think of this as a modernist curse. There are no longer any accidents.

Yes, Tyler, your regulatory state has been failing you for a long time. And you shouldn't be surprised. I'm not surprised that the regulatory states of the countries in which I have lived in the past 50 years have all failed me and all the residents. For example, you should laugh at the title of an article in La Nación de Buenos Aires, published yesterday: Too many exchange rates, too few dollars.

That, however, is not urgent today. I have just read


and I was not surprised. Yesterday, in comments on Alex's posts, I speculated that the COVID-19 pandemic increasingly looks like the largest fraud scheme ever because the huge social cost of most governments' responses (here in Chile, as in Argentina and other LA countries, we are supposed to be in the high-risk stage of the pandemic and politicians and bureaucrats insist in quarantining all of us --except for Bolsonaro but he's undermined by state governors and mayors, a story that you should know very well). Every new piece that I read --including all your posts and your references published by WP, NY, FT, and other media with a clear anti-Trump bias-- seems a piece of a large puzzle, one that at the end may look like the Mueller's report or the Madoff's movie.

I may be wrong. Please try to persuade me that I'm.

And this is what a Never-Trump has to say


Never-Trumpers have yet to accept that even before assuming the presidency bureaucrats have cheated Trump of their services. Trump doesn't trust them because, again and again, they cheated him of their services, not the other way around. For more than 3 years, Americans have learned the many ways that corrupt bureaucrats --including some disguised as scientists-- are protected by law and more importantly by politicians and judges.

At this moment the first article in WP is by Joel Achenbach with the title "Months into the pandemic, experts grapple with unknowns".

Very well written and a lot of good information. Some unknowns, however, quickly turn into arguments for the WP narrative. More importantly, to support the narrative, the articles says

"Scientists like to say that all models are wrong but some are useful. The decision by Trump to order an initial 15-day national shutdown came March 16, when the country had reported only 85 deaths, according to a Washington Post tally. "

It's a lie to say that Trump ordered a national shutdown. What he did on March 16 was this


Yes, a big lie. State governors and mayors shut down the U.S.

International Pants Apparatus:

Whines weekly about Tyler voting Democrat.

Wrong 100.000% of the time.

Reading the various defenses and explanations of why if makes perfect sense to have federal hand sanitizer police is quite amusing.

In 1970 the Monty Python comedy troupe memorialized bureaucratic inefficiency with "The Ministry of Silly Walks." I've been around bureaucracies and I got it then and get it now. Does not need any analysis, if a "Ministry of Silly Walks" (or airline inspection office) is there, the laughable results follow.

Whelp, we'd either have a terrorist attack or an EXPONENTIAL infectious disease outbreak. Thankfully, with the FAA, we have neither!

Our regulatory state is certainly failing. But so is our libertarian state. See the Danish automated meat plants. https://www.wired.com/story/covid-19-makes-the-case-for-more-meatpacking-robots/

Labor is too cheap in the US. We'd have fully automated meat plants if the minimum wage were high enough and there were real penalties for hiring undocumented immigrants.

This... doesn't seem that bad to me?

It's a flammable substance. If you want to implement a policy to bring it on aircrafts in bulk, someone should at least think about the unintended consequences first.

This is about the airline handing it out. Yes, it’s a flammable substance, but the airline knows that as well and maybe can be trusted to handle it properly.

Ask the Swissair 111 passengers if the airlines can be trusted to self-regulate on fire safety.

Hey Tyler, can you make a follow-up blog post on Dominic Cummings?

He was supposed to be a reformer, but it turns out that he's a liar who doesn't follow his government's rules when they matter most.

He could be both a liar and a reformer.

I'm not sure which government rules he failed to follow. Possibly the one about driving when one's eyesight is poor - but more details would be needed before this could be determined.

The British media coverage of this is ludicrous. The newspapers have got multiple columnists writing on it, with many column inches.

Clearly there’s nothing else of significance this week. Tempest in a teacup. How many did he endanger by this minor hypocrisy in driving his 5 year old to his parents?

Tories who hate his influence and the entire left are baying for his resignation.

The letter is dated May 19 and starts: "This letter is in response to your submission, dated May 19, 2020 in which you requested ..."
They responded the same day! (after meetings on May 14 and May 18). If all government bureaucrats were so responsive, we would be in much better shape.

American Airlines is a rather large, important company. A small business would likely elicit no response. This is end state capitalism: large corporations kept in business by an onerous regulatory nexus.

Questions for Tyler: which countries have the best regulatory states? How are attitudes towards the state correlated with efficacy of regulatory state?

In the UK, EU and non EU European countries, government service is a profession, each country is generally homogenized and competence is expected. In the US, civil service regulations govern hiring and tenure, diversity is the goal, not competence.
More informed insiders have a better view.

Wrong on too many fronts to bother...

Wow, the comment section went downhill since I left it a few weeks ago. Nobody has mentioned the below.

As a public service, I'm temporarily breaking my exile to say that as of about three days ago, it was found that Covid-19 is rarely spread by casual contact, so hand sanitizing is moot and not emphasized anymore (Google this). Even here in Greece they've deemphasized on state run TV the necessity of washing of hands.

i assume airplanes are categorized as greater than casual contact

George, per usual you seem to not understand what casual contact means.

Well then illuminate me smart guy.

Is there some magical exemption for airplanes from the elements of duration, proximity, and air circulation? I'd sure love to hear about that. If it exists.

i used to try and be generous and tell myself this place is where tyler gets his freak on, and tries out dumb ideas in a safe space, and trolls the commentariat.

but i think that gave him too much credit.

first his jihad against epidemiologists, and now this serialized lame nonsense, not even worthy of a newsmax comment section

The evil DC imps, out in force I see. Go back to your cave.

thats hilarious.

i am quite certain that you are fully unaware that tyler went to harvard, teaches in virginia, and writes for bloomberg

When someone proposes that we build an autobahn, and no one raises their 'very concerned' hand, is the moment we're America again.

yeah but someone would insist we call it a “freedom freeway” instead of autobahn, and we’d be back to not being america again

As far as I can tell, nobody is stopping brilliant economics professors from taking a paycut for a couple years and contributing to regulatory agencies as valued and effective employees.

Who is failing who?

My small business periodically ships dangerous goods under 49 CFR. I'd be surprised if there is a piece of regulation that is more complex, less understood, carrying more significant penalties and less consistently applied. We have computer generated forms that spit out exactly the same documentation and our paperwork will be accepted or rejected for formatting, omissions, improper information, etc. with no rhyme or reason. The exact same document, with no more than a date change, can be accepted one day and rejected the next.

This is not an unfamiliar process. Obtain control over some state apparatus, if it currently works make it doesn't so people are forced to pay bribes to get what they need. The only weird thing is that it's happening on a large scale in a developed country.

Lets not forget that the other author of this blog showed that regulations arent so harmful.


"A small matter, yes, but indicative of the larger whole. Here is the full post from Air Genius Gary Leff, via Lama."

Speaking of air geniuses and (not quite a) lama:


This is less of an issue of a regulatory state, and more of an issue of a citizen-driven regulatory pressure. Flying is extremely safe vs. driving, but the FAA is far more heavily emphasized than NHTSA. People are scared of plane crashes (extremely rare), but will drive drunk, text, with bald tires and shot brakes all day long.

A single plane crash gets a massive in-depth investigation that can take years. It's in the news for weeks, people talk about how they will never fly in a MAX, or an Airbus, or a Russian aircraft, or whatever. There are congressional hearings, and thousand page reports. How long was MH-70 in the news? That airliner over Ukraine? Iran? The 737-MAX? If it wasn't so sad it would be hilarious!

How long did the local cop take to write up your fender-bender?

So there is some incompetent, lazy bureaucrat somewhere, imagining a DMV clerk or the "Old Lady with the tennis shoes" in the Finance Office for the vets that know, with all the power that is charged with stamping yes or no for every "simple" decision when it comes to airline policy?

Or maybe there is a committee charged with having to look at the effects of every policy decision since it effects every airline that lands in the US and how that effects the "morass" of safety regulations as an integrated and complex, deadly serious system?

Is a flammable liquid a potential fire hazard? David Koch escaped with burns to his lungs. Thirty others did not fare as well.


The solution to the failure of the regulatory state is either:

(1) Codify in advance absolutely everything that can possibly happen in detail.
(2) Decide everything immediately on a case-by-case basis using human "gut feelings."

Why haven't these been done already? Hint: Because they are impossible (1) or (2) undesirable.

... or maybe steer some middle course in the vast spectrum of options between (1) and (2). And also some readiness to be flexible in emergency situations.

(1) Codify exactly what "the middle course" is, or which of the infinitely many middle courses are, and (2) indicate what "some readiness to be flexible" will be. You're back at the beginning. If you prefer swicthing back and forth from (1) to (2), then you either need a rule specifying when you can or should ot that, or you need to rely on someone to use judgement and gut feelings to decide when to do it.
In other words the regulatory state is doing what it was designed to do and should do. I isn't "falling," rather it isn't, was never intended to be able to, and in the real world, can't provide answers that will please everyone all the time.

Empower regulators to use a certain degree of discretion. Not a false dichotomy between insane red tape and anything-goes.

Actually it's the entire edifice of Managerial Capitalism that's failing.

It's worth pointing out that this type of extreme preciseness would be less necessary if companies were more easily held liable for their own mistakes. But when something goes wrong, you can guarantee companies will do twist every rule they can to protect themselves.

But capitalism prevents companies from not using these levers, as one company taking advantage will force others to follow. This leads you to an even more tortuous process of prosecution, which any regulator would work fairly hard to avoid by being zealous about precision.

There are plenty of regulations we could do without (looking at you, local building density codes & occupational licensing). But this particular one seems not-crazy. I'm actually glad the FAA needs to review whether we should bring non-trivial amounts of amazingly flammable material, which generates flammable volatiles, into a confined (indeed, sealed) space. Seems only prudent to estimate the probability of inadvertently creating a populated, flying fuel-air bomb. Likely that probability is very low relative to the benefits of decreased virus transmission, but worth checking.

It is strange to complain on behalf of a private industry that doesn't seem to mind these regulations, probably because they have benefitted enormously from the oversight provided by the FAA over the years. The US airline industry has a safety record unmatched anywhere in the world. Simply put, it works.

Sorry, have to disagree here. Flammable stuff in aircraft cabins is actually a very big deal, and the FAA is right to want understand and potentially control what the airlines are doing, e.g.


What was described was two meetings to talk about this with the regulators after which permission was given, not burdensome at all. Skeptics might drip a little of their favourite sanitizer into a coffee cup and hit it with a lighter, it will burn pretty well.

Disingenuous? Is regulatory load prescribed by the war on terror different than the regulatory load desired for consumer safety/environmental concerns?

When did Tyler Cowen lose the capacity to convey a complete thought?

In other words, what kind of lame innuendo is this?

This does seem ridiculous but I hope you might consider also that the fault could be with the airlines. In a country dripping in lawyers, a culture has arisen where people volunteer authority where none has been given.

Great example: I worked in non-profit life for years. Non-profits with a c3 designation can do very little work on legislation and shouldn't get involved with electoral politics much. With a c4 designation they can do all the legislative work they want and they can also endorse candidates.

Yet you will find that many non-profit executives, "just to be safe," will never say anything at all about legislative, ever. Further, though they might be a c4 for the purpose of engaging on legislation, they still won't say anything about elections.

There's a decent chance that lawyers at airlines thought it would be better just to ask even if it wasn't clearly required. Having been asked, the FAA answered.

You also very often seen this in another form. The law is usually thought to largely prohibit things entities can't do, but in an increasingly legalistic world, companies don't think they can do something unless the law or regulations tell them how.

Comments for this post are closed