Both Volkswagen and the EPA have regulatory woes.

So, the Volkswagen scandal, in a nutshell: the company rigged its diesel cars sold in America to produce one set of nitrogen oxide emissions when tested, and another set everywhere else.  This allowed them to get past the EPA’s emissions tests for years; the EPA is currently freaking out, and trying to work out how to retroactively road-test all the diesel Volkswagen cars currently on the road in the USA right now (something like half a million of them). It is, as they say, quite the scandal.

Let me get this out of the way: bad Volkswagen! Bad! No biscuit! …Also: as The Week noted, it was highly inappropriate for Volkswagen to tout itself as being ‘green’ (and accept federal subsidies accordingly) via the use of this dodge. That is, in fact, a highly legitimate issue. Alas for the EPA, the Week went on to note this:

The EPA slashed allowable nitrogen dioxide car emissions from the already low 1.2 grams per mile average to 0.07 grams per mile in 2008 to boost air quality that courts at the time ruled was already pretty good and adequately protecting public health. The EPA is now poised to tighten that standard another 30 percent.

The problem for carmakers is that they can’t simultaneously satisfy such regulatory edicts and consumer demand.

(Via Instapundit) You see, it’s great to pass laws. It’s absolutely wonderful to pass laws, in fact.  And it can be ever so much fun to pass laws that never consider the possibility that people would try to evade those laws.  In this particular case, the EPA told Volkswagen that emissions had to be at a certain level, and then assumed that Volkswagen would self-regulate its behavior. Well, Volkswagen did not do that. A lot of people are confused as to why, which seems silly: they did it because Volkswagen figured that they could get away with it; and if they got, say, enough cars on the roads in the United States in the process then they might even get away with it even if they got caught.

In this particular case, Volkswagen will probably not get away with it – too few cars affected, and the EPA is still sixteen months away from being smacked in the face with a rolled-up newspaper – but the general problem about government regulations, and the ways to break / evade / pervert / defy them, remains.  To wit: the more regulations, the more incentives there are to evade them.  You can argue the point up and down and pound the table all you like*, but human nature is human nature. People will smuggle items and not pay excise taxes on them; they will buy booze even if you make it illegal to sell it; and they will evade nit-picking pollution controls widely believed to be social engineering exercises in disguise if they think that nobody’s looking. Sorry if that bothers people, but I wasn’t involved in the design process for the human psyche.

(Image via Shutterstock)

Moe Lane (crosspost)

PS: The EPA is apparently going to have to go out and do more emissions testing on their own. How are they going to pay for that? …Well, that’s an interesting question. One that the EPA would be quite keen to hear the answer to, themselves.

*Many of the people upset about this seem to be suffering from the charming, if distressingly naive, delusion that the American populace gives a hoot about nitrogen oxide emissions. Or that said populace be infuriated with Volkswagen over this forever, or this time next week, or even that they’re infuriated right now.