Over in the VW thread, I had the following comment: Originally Posted by jerry33 Almost all corporations behave in exactly the same manner. VW just got caught. This is why you need strict regulations on corporate behaviour and not turn corporations into people as the U.S. Supreme Court just did. If you do turn them into people, then they need to have a fixed life-span of maybe thirty years, and they need the ability to be put in jail (limited communications and no gross income for a period of time). (bolded part my emphasis) I understand the thinking and reaction that leads to the "need for strict regulations". I disagree though that fundamentally that is a solution - it's a Band-Aid. I come from the school of thought that holds that among people and entities of good will and intent, no amount of laws are needed; among people and entities of ill intent, no amount of laws are adequate. (To be accurate, among people of good will and intent, all you really need is context). At least in the US, it looks to me like we are turning increasingly to more laws, more regulation, as a mechanism for sustaining society. It may take awhile, but more laws and more regulations are just a good source of income for the legal profession; they don't stop people from behaving badly - they just more specifically define the edges so that people skirting the edges have a clearer mark for what they need to navigate around. Or in dynamic system terms, we're attempting to apply simple solutions to complex problems. ---------------- A few people jumped in with reactions, and so I'm going to try to expand on my comments to be clearer. I realize that what I was thinking was at best incompletely articulated. First and most importantly, I am in complete agreement with jerry33 (and others) about the need for strict regulations and the importance of law. I do not propose absence of law and regulation as the way forward to fixing our environmental or other problems. The central point I'm trying to get to is that I see the role of law and regulation in today's world, or at least in the USA, to be changing rapidly and in the direction of increasing complexity. In particular I see us shifting from "simple" articulations of intent of what acceptable behavior is for society, to a culture and view in which everything not specifically forbidden in law or regulation is explicitly legal, moral, and ok. An example of a simple articulation of intent of acceptable behavior - "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule. My thinking on this topic has been strongly influenced by this speech by Andrew Haldane: http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Documents/speeches/2012/speech596.pdf. There are a whole host of good points here, but if I were to simplify extraordinarily, his point is that in a complex world and in uncertain decision making, simple rules-of-thumb beat complex models in every way (the cost to acquire information and make a decision, the speed of the decision, the quality of the decision, the cost regulate the industry, more). I hope others will take the time to read the speech in full. I know that I'm glad @brianman posted his comment asking that we continue this conversation - that prompted me to go find the speech and read it again. It's about 25-30 pages and was totally worth my time reading it. Despite the length and him being a central banker and all, I believe you will find him surprisingly readable and understandable. Back to the original topic of environmental regulation and law. I can better articulate one of my points - that increasingly complex environmental regulations and laws may in fact backfire on us and create the opposite of their intended effect. Much as has happened already in finance, with increasingly complex environmental regulations, we may find individuals and companies consciously managing to the regulations and laws (rather than to simpler metrics like whether we're getting closer or further away from exterminating ourselves). Humans are an amazingly creative and inventive bunch, and a culture in which everything not explicitly outlawed is fair game sounds to me like a strong basis for destroying the environment - we're just not going to be able to write laws and regs fast enough to stop it, and the burden of complying with them all (given that we actually want to comply with them - thanks VW for clearing the air on that point!), will be such that I claim - the laws and regs won't ultimately create the result intended by writing the laws and regulations. That doesn't mean the alternative is to dispense with all laws and regulations. There is a big gap between writing a law or regulation to cover every activity a human being can ever engage in, and no laws or regulations. I can't be more specific about what I am proposing because frankly, I don't know what the specific metrics and standards should be. I'm an interested observer who's domain of expertise is elsewhere. I do know that it's part of what I consider to be Elon Musk's genius. Lots of people have articulated how desirable it is to create products people want that also happen to be good for the environment. He's been getting involved repetitively in identifying and creating actual products that create that dynamic. Products that make it easy to make choices that are good in strictly personal terms, ignoring all other consequences, as well as choices that are good even encompassing all other consequences that we are able to identify. I can have my cake and eat it too. (Or as a Roadster owner, oh the sacrifice I live with daily in my personal quest to lower my carbon footprint and impact on the planet). The trust violation by VW is that they made that offer (be good for the environment, while being efficient and having a light footprint and low carbon emissions by buying our car) - and then it turns out they were straight out lying. The offer they really made was "have a fun driving car, that is fun driving because it is spewing pollution that makes living beings sick", knowing full well that some of their customers would never say yes to that proposition. In this case, we have laws / regs on the books that regulate the behavior and VW is going to be crucified for their behavior. We might even benefit in a backwards way (a not uncommon effect in a complex system like this) when regulators take a closer look at the testing protocols, and decide that testing needs to be passed by real cars in real road conditions instead of the highly artificial testing conditions currently used. Changing to real cars in real road conditions might suddenly find the entire gas engine industry to be woefully behind in emissions and efficiency from what they've been reporting (and the regulators have been complicit and supporting). Maybe that's why the other companies haven't exactly been piling on VW and protesting their own innocence The other point I was trying to make, and probably poorly, is something of an ethical or societal point. The problem I see, from a system and society point of view, is that if we've shifted away from the golden rule / morality / religion / good will / whatever you want to call it as the basis for society, and TO "law" as the basis for society, then we're well on the way to destroying society. For many of the reasons Andrew talks about in his speech - but the particular reasons I see... if anything not prohibited is permissible behavior in society, then a) we can't write enough laws to maintain society, b) the cost to enforce the laws will be too high for them to be enforced, and c) we become increasingly amoral as we remove any sort of "socially acceptable" governors that we all learn as we're growing and replace them with written law - something that is always incomplete / late / etc... The conclusion I was trying to get to - yes, laws and regulations to establish intent are valuable. However, relying on law or regulation as the source of motivation for people / organizations to do the right thing will always be inadequate. At least to the extent the laws are "thou shalt" types of laws, rather than regulations that match an organization's financial interests with societal interests. And on a lighter note - seen on a bumper sticker on a Prius on my drive home yesterday - "At least the war on the environment is going well" (http://www.amazon.com/Least-Environment-Going-Bumper-Sticker/dp/B001AZN6O6). I was laughing for 2 or 3 miles afterwards. - - - Updated - - - I can add immediately, and as a direct addition to jerry33's comment about corporations as individuals - I am in complete and unreserved agreement. The idea that these legal constructs are indistinguishable from people is just .. I'm speechless just thinking about it. I'd be hard pressed to think of a choice better designed to separate morality from the law. Except maybe that the purpose of companies is to "maximize shareholder value". I googled for that and the first hit was from an author I'm enjoying a lot: http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/02/05/salesforce-ceo-slams-the-worlds-dumbest-idea-maximizing-shareholder-value/, but there was plenty to choose from. So there we have two interlocking ideas - corporations are people, and those people exist to maximize shareholder value (with no regard to any other stakeholder in the ecosystem). And to be clear - I think both ideas are real in the world and that people make real decisions based on these ideas in the world, and they're both incredibly destructive and bad for society in general.