If Something Has Never Existed Before, It Is Unregulated

or, why libertarianism isn’t suited for the modern world.

This excellent and important report by Deborah Blum in WIRED on the recent West Virgina chemical spill is very interesting in a number of respects.

Basically, a substantial amount of a novel chemical substance has been introduced into the environment without any study whatsoever. Related substances are only mildly toxic, but we simply do not know what the consequences of this spill will be.

It seems obvious to me that such a thing should never have been allowed to come into production without extensive regulation. Do you agree?

But apparently, if something has never existed before, it is by default unregulated, at least in the USA. That’s insane.


  1. Dont know the details, but sounds like this is pure common law in action. Its very reactive. The theory is that anyone producing potentially harmful substances can be sued and will have to pay millions in damages if they mess up someone else s health or property, they wont create substances that are harmful. This assumes that as private citizens we all have the means and will to sue whoever messes up our health and property, and are prepared for shelling out megabucks in costs to the other side if we cant prove that their product harmed us - the onus of proof being on the person suing.

    This reactive nature of the common law to environmental problems is the reason why most countries have a law which contains a wide definition of 'substance' or 'contaminant' or similar which specifies that if you are planning to produce something that breaches certain minimum toxic standards, you have to get it tested and permitted. Such laws usually include enforcement mechanisms - ability to monitor the environment, enter property to see what is being produced there, take people to court etc.

  2. Pingback: Another Week in the Ecological Crisis, January 19, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered

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