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>Ministry of standards

>Governments involve themselves in much of public life. It is reasonable to think that at least some involvement is excessive. Many would argue that most involvement is excessive. Of all the portfolios that governments have, there is one that I think should exist of its own accord.

We should have a Ministry of Standards.

Now we do have laws related to these issues, but I think the issue is important enough to warrant its own department with various divisions.

By standards I mean

  • defining various standards;
  • ensuring they are appropriate;
  • enforcing their use; and
  • prescribing punishments for breaches

Given that I prefer minimal government this may appear intrusive, but I see it as an issue of justice, and justice is an important role of government.

Defining standards

It is important to understand that I mean standards which are defined not prescribed. I do not think the government should enforce what manufactures should do, rather describe accurately what they in fact do. Granted there may be safety issues that mean minimum standards must be met in some areas, but by and large I think people should be able to exchange what they wish to do so. People should be able to buy products of varying quality.

Quality often relates to price. For any given object, desired price and quality vary among consumers. Some want high quality, others want low price. Most want high quality and low cost, but decisions are made at the margins. Government does not have a role in specifying a minimum standard (usually). Such a policy limits people, especially the poor who may not be able to afford such high quality items.

I do however think the government can have a role in ensuring that such items are of the claimed quality, and further, the government can have a role in specifying what must be shown on items for sale.

Examples include weights and volumes for foodstuffs, measurement dials in vehicles, breaking force and insulation property of glass, and electricity meters. Much of which is already covered by law.

Ensuring appropriateness

Consumers have the benefit of taking their custom where they will. Manufactures have the benefit in knowing exactly the quality of their product. Few consumers have the knowledge or ability to assess quality to this degree. Manufacturers may advertise various benefits of their product which is fine, but this should not be used to remove focus from more important quality issues that may not be mentioned.

Consider digital cameras. The quality of a photo is determined by several things including resolution. For people who print photos 6 megapixels is probably adequate. Now manufacturers can produce cameras of higher density such as 9 megapixels and they should be free to do so. This is good for larger photos, for cropping photos, and for digital zoom. The problem is that people may assume that the number of pixels reflects the quality of the photo because of the way cameras are marketed; but other factors are important such as the depth per pixel, speed of shot, stability of image capture, and software manipulation. So one may spend the extra money gaining extra pixels with no gain in printed product, and possibly worse if the pictures are blurred. He would be better spending the extra money on a camera that shoots more stable pictures at a lower resolution.

Defining standards of measures that affect photo quality that must be displayed on the product makes people aware of the issues, it lets them choose what they think best, and makes it harder for manufacturers to make cheap improvements and market the product as significantly superior.

Enforcing use

This is legislation that makes certain labelling compulsory and allows for the government to fund random testing to ensure compliance. Not compliance to some artificial mandate, rather accuracy of labelling. I am not concerned whether a product contains 1% or 20% sugar, just that one can trust the label.

Dealing with non-compliance

I think there is a role for this ministry to define the level of fines for breaches. The relationship between consumer and manufacturer is asymmetrical. Fortunately manufacturers are quite responsive to consumers for the sake of their brand name. However they may not be, especially in areas that may not have significant repeat service such as car and house sales. When organisations are blatantly and knowingly passing off a false product it is unduly onerous to expect a duped consumer to take up this cause. It costs them time, time that may be intentionally delayed by a company; money they may not have; and even if they were to win in court they may still be out of pocket and time and the company may be inadequately fined nor forced to significantly change their practice. Government enforcement is probably preferable.

I do not see this as applying to legitimate disputes, nor should it remove the ability for a consumer to act if they deem it necessary.

Nor am I anti-industry. I think some people make frivolous claims. Frivolity should be dealt with by claim dismissal and fining if necessary (paying the appropriate costs of all sides at minimum). Further, many companies care about both their employees and their customer base; they are what keep them in business.

Some caveats

  • As mentioned above, I don’t see the governments role as setting what standards a product should have, just what standards it should measured by and making those easily accessible, preferably displayed on the product. Of course the company can include any other benefits it wishes to, so long those claims are accurate.
  • If the government wishes to set minimum standards, e.g. seatbelt positioning and engagement, then this is the role of a different department. It is very important the roles are not confused and that excessive red tape is not created.
  • I do not think the compliance costs should be high. It is reasonable to measure the macro- and micro-constituents of foodstuffs as this is a one-off cost. Incorporating the data into a label is not that costly either. But requiring a car company to carry out extensive crash testing would be an excessive cost. Car companies remain free to do this of their own volition and many large car companies do this anyway. And the government is free to carry out this testing (though at whose cost?).
  • I am not certain whether the government should enforce standards that are measured by a group not of the manufacturer’s choosing. It is their product, they should have some say. Though if it is a sensible and well defined standard then the result should be the same whoever tests.
  • Protecting vulnerable people from predators and the public from scams are important issues, but may come under a slightly different aegis. Possibly a division within the “standards” umbrella, probably within a policing portfolio.
  • I think monetary policy and inflation comes under the definition of standards, but the issue of monetary standards is large enough to have a separate division within a Ministry of Standards.

Current law

I am aware that much of this is already in legislation. I do not mean to imply that this is not done. I just think it important enough for citizens that it is reasonable for the state to involve itself. It is after all an issue of justice, and justice is one of the few mandates of the state.

More to follow.

Categories: justice, politics, standards, truth
  1. michael
    2008 November 29 at 17:48

    It’s reasonable to think that this country, the United States of America attempted to have established such high standards already.
    And now look at it?
    And even more so, look at how the nations of the world think of it?
    I would posit two places of Scripture to undermine the good intent here and encourage the obvious that the Psalmist and the Apostle had in mind instead:::>
    Psa 68:15 O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
    Psa 68:16 Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired for his abode, yes, where the LORD will dwell forever?
    Psa 68:17 The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.
    Psa 68:18 You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.
    Psa 68:19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah
    Psa 68:20 Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.
    Psa 68:21 But God will strike the heads of his enemies, the hairy crown of him who walks in his guilty ways.
    And of course here too :::>
    Col 2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,
    Col 2:2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,
    Col 2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
    Col 2:4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
    Col 2:5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
    Col 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,
    Col 2:7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
    Col 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
    Col 2:9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
    Col 2:10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
    As can be tested by looking up the Greek, you should note that Col. 2:15 means the complete and utter stripping of all vestures of authority off those rulers and authorities putting them to open shame triumphing over them “in Him” already!
    To disarm someone according to this Greek word is utter and complete:::>
    Middle voice from G575 and G1562; to divest wholly oneself, or (for oneself) despoil: – put off, spoil.
    General McAr

  2. michael
    2008 November 29 at 18:03

    To finish the thought:::>
    General McArthur did as much to the Japanese when he had their surrender ceremony on the deck top of the battleship. He publicly stripped the authorities off the Japanese representatives sent for that purpose, to surrender their use of all their worldly authority,their high standards.
    It seems to me your message on establishing high standards will be taken well by some. I note that it is going to take more than a couple of atomic blasts to cause the elemental spirits of this present age to surrender though seeing they are doing a very good job of lowering the Godly standards of Christ in the world today.
    We can take to heart Scripture, like these, as we go about living the rest of our days on the earth amidst such elementary spiritual rebellion going on now against Him:::>
    Heb 9:24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
    Heb 9:25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,
    Heb 9:26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
    Heb 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
    Heb 9:28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

  3. 2008 November 30 at 03:55

    I suppose the idea in standards or any other government involvement is to make it fair and to make clear who is responsible for what.
    So Manufacturers are responsible for representing their product and it’s legitmate uses and quality accurately. Consumers are responsible for researching their purchases and accepting the risk that buying any product is.
    Guarantees and insurance on products would have an obvious place here and that would form part of your clue into the belief the manufacturer has in quality of their product.
    I think it may be more innefficient than have worldwide accepted standards and would place a lot of load on the research needed for every purchase. You could outsource that research via consumer magazines, ISO etc…
    I like wood products which tell you the level of treatment they have had for resistance to insects and rotting…
    A good name may once again be a rising currency as the global finance situation puts pressure on businesses and consumers

  4. duckman
    2008 November 30 at 22:34

    It is reasonable to think that at least some involvement is excessive.
    That implies that no involvement is the desired condition. (Don’t mind me. I’m being deliberately obtuse.)

  5. 2008 December 1 at 08:23

    TMYU, The problem I have with international standards is that they are often minimum standards, i.e. they are enforcing a requirement. I am just making the claim for labelling according to accepted definitions. Like stating that paper must be sold subject to stating what density it is. So a company can make paper or card to any density it wishes but the law would force them to label what it is. They could sell thin paper but they could not pass off thin paper as thick paper by adding opaque additives to make it look thick (they could but it wouldn’t matter because the packaging would state the truth).

  6. 2008 December 1 at 08:25

    Hi duckman, haven’t seen you for some time and had noticed your blog had been stale; good to see you still finding your way around the interweb.

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