Friday, February 07, 2014

Bootleggers and Baptists

Living in rural southwestern Missouri (God's Country) we happen to be members of the Missouri Farm Bureau.  This organization produces a quarterly membership publication called "Show Me".  An editorial by MFB president Blake Hurst in the Winter 2014 issue caught my eye and struck a chord that I feel is worth sharing.  His "Bootleggers and Baptists" is sub-titled "another way to think about government regulations".   The term itself is attributable to regulatory economist Bruce Yandle who observed that regulations are supported by two groups.  Those who support the proposed purpose and those who benefit from undermining the proposed purpose.  The reference is to the simple fact that historically Baptist groups have supported regulations that restricted the sale of alcohol on Sundays and these regulations were also advocated by Bootleggers, who profited from the lack of legal competition on that day of the week.  Some might call it a symbiotic relationship.  Others view the result as "suboptimal legislation" where "broader society would be better off either with no legislation or different legislation"

Mr. Hurst was leading into a discussion about the deluge of regulation facing the agriculture industry.  In particular, he mentions how provisions of the new Food Safety Modernization Act tend to harm small firms because the cost of compliance is high.  This favors larger firms, he explains.  The annual cost of new regulations is about five times the cost of Clinton/Bush era regulations.  This burden is felt more intensely by small firms and therefore is advantageous to and supported by larger firms.  It's a case where two potential adversaries, public safety activists and big business, are like the Baptists and Bootleggers.

It didn't take much deliberation to recognize some parallels in cultural property regulation.  If Preservationists and Archaeologists can be likened in a philosophical way to Baptists, then Nationalistic States who benefit from total state control and ownership of cultural property are perhaps the equivalent of Bootleggers.  The coalition and resulting influence on regulation favors institutional controls rather than the interests of the broader public.   This hits close to home for private collectors of ancient coins when the "Baptists and Bootleggers" call for verifiable provenance on every coin sold before it can transit national borders.  Large firms can bear the financial burden of onerous documentation and registration far more easily than small firms and expensive coins can more easily justify the expense than common inexpensive coins.  What this leads to is an advantage for certain types of firms and certain types of customers—generally to the disadvantage of the average citizen or small "Mom and Pop" business.    As diverse as agriculture and ancient coin collecting seem to be, the dynamics of governance and bureaucracy have similar effects on both.

1 comment:

Cultural Property Observer said...

Thanks Wayne. Great post. In addition, the definition of a bad regulation is one that is easy to evade but is hard for those who want to act lawfully to comply. That certainly is the case with coin import restrictions. Anyone who wants to can just dump a restricted coin in an envelope and hope it makes it through-- it's those who try to comply with the law that have problems. Very few European firms want to fill out the required paperwork even if they had the required information available to them. I know Barford and Elkins claim the regulations are easy to comply with, but if you ask the people who really need to do so-- the small businesses that import coins legally-- one quickly sees their claims of easy import are false.