Lead Article (Self-help topic – REGULATIONS ARE GOOD)

I recently noticed the Latin that ran across the bottom of the Coat of Arms for the City of Dublin. The city calls this their motto. It is “Obedientia Civium Urbis Felicitas” which translates (according to the brochure – I am definitely not relying on my Latin here) to “Happy the city where citizens obey”.

Seeing this started me thinking. Everyone in business tends to complain about paying income tax. We complain about over-regulation and too much “red tape” (a term that dates back to the 16th century where the Spanish administration, under Charles V, used red tape to modernise the administration of the empire by binding important documents with red tape to separate them from the issues that were treated in an ordinary administrative way.)

From a business perspective, it is an easy throw-away line. “There is too much red tape” or “there are so many rules to follow how can I actually run my business?” I started thinking about a new society that I might create with no rules at all.

I want to create a hypothetical city – one where no rules apply – and see how that might play out. I have therefore decided to create my own city which has only one rule – there are no rules at all. I set off in search of some uninhabited land and create my new city – with family in tow.

Remember that people in my city can do whatever they like, whenever, and however they like. Kids often lament too many rules – they are sick of school, they don’t want to practise their piano, they want to eat chocolate all day and they want to have every Lego set ever created.

I start off by building my house. I don’t have to waste time having it approved by a central consent authority or getting a certificate to tell me it is safe. This is the ultimate case of caveat emptor because if my house falls over I am not sure who I am going to blame but hey – rules are so yesterday. Not sure what I’ll do about fresh water and sanitation. The development of sanitation was recently voted by the British Medical Journal as the greatest medical advance since the journal started in 1840, but my new city doesn’t have anything resembling a sewer system so I’ll just pump the sewerage far enough away from my house that I won’t notice it. The upside is I won’t have to pay sewerage fees and there is no central authority to tell me I can’t do it!

I hit my first little problem when construction of my house starts. The builders from a nearby city (one of those silly ones with rules) say they can’t reach my house because there are no roads. Whoops. I will have to make do with a road graded well enough for trucks to travel on, but I now have to settle for a smaller house after blowing some of my budget on grading a road.

When the house is finally built I have it made. My solar panels and batteries give me electricity. Rain is falling. Sewerage is going away somewhere – not sure where but that isn’t really my problem. I grow vegetables in the area around my house (not too close to my sewerage outlet though). I pick up TV signals from a satellite dish so I buy a nice big TV for my lounge room.

Eventually someone hears about my wonderful concept. A very reasonable sounding gentleman moves out and starts building a house near mine. I think he’s building a bit too close, so I tell him – and he tells me he doesn’t care. This isn’t going so well. We politely argue and he finally agrees to move further up the road, but starts using the graded road I paid for. I guess that is just the price I pay for being such an early adopter because when I ask him for some money to pay me back for the road I paid for, he starts talking about me wanting to introduce a “road tax” and then starts a rant about government and red tape. I decide to leave it alone.

I get over that one. But then he starts to pump his sewerage out his back door – and it runs into my house. After our first discussions didn’t go so well I decide to take a different approach. I invite him over for coffee. Over coffee I ask him if he can notice the smell. With his head buried in a handkerchief he says he can’t smell anything so eventually I have to tell him that I am not happy about his sewer situation and I want him to redirect it somewhere else. He says it really isn’t his problem, he can do whatever he wants and, by the way, he likes my nice big-screen TV so decides to take it on his way out the door. I object, but he is bigger than me so he walks out with my TV. There are no rules, so there is no punishment. The only option is to take it back.

I gather some friends and walk to my neighbour’s house via my smelly sewerage pit. With only a little force, I take back my TV. This city isn’t going so well and I only have two houses so far. I assume this is the end of the situation and I won’t expect a Christmas card from my neighbour. The next day I receive another visit from my neighbour and 10 of his friends and – after I regain consciousness – I realise I have just lost my TV, my solar panels, and my wife. This is getting out of control.

Whilst still regaining vision in my left eye, my good eye sees a new business setting up across the road. OK – so my neighbourly relations aren’t going so well but maybe this city is catching on and we will see some industry that was sick of “red tape” in those law-abiding cities. Then I realise what the business is – an unregulated piggery! It will be huge – and it is uphill from my place. More effluent to deal with!

At what point do I give up and demand we have some rules? How long can society exist without rules? Are there some rules which we should follow and others that can be ignored? Many may believe we have far too many rules and they are far too intrusive, but society – as a whole – has created the rules we live by.

People complain about speed laws – until their daughter is injured by a speeding driver. People complain about random breath testing – until they attend the funeral of a mate killed by a drunken driver. People complain about health regulations – until they end up in hospital with food poisoning. People complain about rules that govern their business – until a competitor arrives that is operating outside the law. People complain about some facets of society until it has a direct negative impact on them.

For me, I don’t like the idea of my new city. The original name of my city, “Utopia” has been replaced by the more appropriate “Chaos City”.

Rules are in place to ensure we have a level-playing field and, when you look at the rules that exist to regulate our businesses, they all make sense when you consider the big picture and look at it from society’s point of view. The next time you are frustrated with rules, start to think of what a city might look like with no rules.

Tell me if you think we have too many regulations at md@smallbusinessrules.com.


Science Quiz Question

Everyone knows that water goes down the drain clockwise in the southern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere (and it is often explained with reference to the Coriolis Effect). I remember my first trip to the US – I was quite excited to see the water spinning down the toilet in a counter-clockwise direction to confirm the science that I knew to be true. The effect is so dramatic that I have even seen YouTube videos of people standing on the equator who then take a step to one side and the water spins one way and then they step to the other side and the water spins in the opposite direction.

My science question for this month is: What way does the water go down the drain if you stand precisely on the equator?

Science Quiz Answer

This is one of those great scientific myths where a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. The Coriolis Effect is real. We see the Coriolis Effect in nature whenever we see a large cyclone. Rather than flowing from areas of high-pressure to areas of low-pressure as you would expect in a non-rotating planet, winds tend to flow to the right north of the equator and to the left south of it. The earth is only completing one rotation per day though so the Coriolis force is quite small and its effect only becomes noticeable with motions occurring over large distances and longer periods of time.

The Coriolis Effect is real on bodies of water on different sides of the equator. There have been experiments performed on large bodies of water to demonstrate the effect. For example, a body of water about three metres in diameter and 20 centimetres deep was used. It was left untouched for several days to negate any introduced spin in the filling process. It was protected from external forces – such as wind – that might introduce a rotation of the water. After several days at rest, it was then drained from the bottom. The water slowly rotated in the expected direction in each hemisphere.

When you go down to a body of water the size of a toilet or basin and the water is introduced with a certain inherent spin, the Coriolis Effect is less than insignificantly minimally barely discernible. The direction the rim jets are pointed is the major determining factor in any spinning you might see in a toilet. As for the answer: The water will go down the drain on the equator with a spin that is determined by the way the water was introduced. And if you watch those videos that are showing you the unbelievable examples of water spinning in both directions just on either side of the equator, just have a close look at how they pour the water in the bowl! This is more the work of a magician than the work of science.

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