Crowd-Sourcing Vice Regulation

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Showering one morning during a recent visit to Jacksonville, I marveled at a clever use of magnets in the curtain liner. (They eliminated the gap between the liner and the wall at the top. Until then, I'd only seen magnets employed around the bottom of shower curtain liners.)

This small innovation triggered a memory -- of a poor bathroom layout I endured on a past trip -- and an idea. The idea probably isn't wholly novel or unobvious, but even if it were, it isn't the kind of thing I'd implement. I would nevertheless like this idea to be out there for someone else to do something with. The idea is also valuable as a partial answer to a kind of pro-government-regulation argument I hear from time to time.

While showering, I considered a list I was making, of things I'd want in a house. I quickly realized that a similar list might serve well as an accommodation checklist. That list might be even better online for at least a couple of reasons: First, it would be easier to benefit from the experiences of others, who may have had unpleasant surprises I hadn't yet. Second, the list could conceivably be cross-referenced to hotels. For example, I could see a tall traveler being able to avoid, say, a hotel with particularly low shower heads. Overall, some master list, of things all customers want or expect would emerge that could also serve as a minimal standard for hotel service.

A further thought followed: This is one of the things that could, along with generally more alert customers, replace government regulation of business. Such lists, almost certainly curated in some way, would complement already-existing non-governmental entities like the Consumers Union or Underwriters Laboratories.

It is not my intent in a short blog post to outline in great detail how this could be done, but to suggest that the prevalence of government regulations has caused many people to wonder how standards for industries could be formulated and enforced. (Crowd-sourcing would be a method of formulation. Publicity and the free market would be mechanisms of enforcement.) I also am not suggesting that crowd-sourcing regulations is some kind of cure-all. (Food handling in restaurants comes to mind: There are technical areas like this, in which specialized knowledge, such as of how to prevent the spread of food-borne diseases, would be indispensable, and would necessitate some kind of watchdog group or standards body staffed by specialists.) Those things said, there are many aspects of business comprehensible to decently-educated adults of average intelligence which would be amenable to the efforts of active-minded customers interested in getting the most for their money.

-- CAV

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