Industry self-regulation

So, Brian quite correctly pointed out that the NEC is largely a case of industry successfully self-regulating – which of course also made me ponder examples of when regulation is a *bad* thing, such as neighborhood associations (which I know are again a case of private industry). It also had me pondering, why does industry self-regulation work some times and not others? Electrical distribution is *very* safe and well designed, while at the same time we can’t move oil over the surface of the planet without leaks of a extremely toxic nature – and it’s clear from what various locales looked like before the clean air and clean water acts that you can’t trust industry not to pollute.

I think some of it might be the kind of people who are drawn to electrical distribution vs pumping and extraction operations, but I also feel like there’s something more complicated going on here. For a long time aviation was able to completely trust manufacturers to type certify planes, but look at the recent boeing kerfluffle for a example of how that’s not working out so well any more.

I do think some of it is that capitalism has become more a state religion – that in previous epochs the number of insanely greedy to the point of destructive irrationality individuals was somewhat curbed, or alternately their tendencies were curbed by the taxes in place. But that clearly can’t explain all of it.

I’ll have to think about it, but thanks for the quite valid point, Brian.

One Response to “Industry self-regulation”

  1. Brian Leeper Says:

    Electrical distribution is EVERYWHERE. You might say it’s ubiquitous and indispensable. It’s a very large industry. It’s well studied and researched, and there are many companies involved in making products for it, from Square D to Eaton to ABB to General Electric, just to name a few. Many of these are “household names”…who hasn’t heard of General Electric, if not Square D?

    There are probably at least half a million people who work in the electrical industry, from electricians to electrical engineers to linesman to substation technicians (again, just to name a few!).

    I would guess that most people know at least two people who work in the electrical industry in some capacity. My cousin is an electrician and a long-time friend of mine in Canada is an electrical engineer for a power company.

    Training for those who want to work in the electrical industry is readily available, often as close as your nearest community college or vo-tech school. You can likely go to your local library and find an entire shelf of books about electrical distribution, and if that’s not enough, the Rural Utilities Service (fka Rural Electrical Administration) has lots of technical information on their website too.

    It is likely that all of these factors contribute to the good safety record that the electrical industry has.

    Petroleum pipeline distribution is a much smaller industry. Most people probably couldn’t tell you where their nearest petroleum pipeline is, and they probably don’t know a single person who works in that industry. It’s not as heavily researched and studied compared to electrical distribution, and training isn’t nearly as available either.

    It’s also an industry that is largely out of sight, out of mind among the general public–at least until an incident occurs.

    I suspect that these factors conspire to make it difficult for petroleum pipeline operators to hire and retain qualified employees, and this is reflected in the relatively poorer safety record compared to the electrical industry.

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