Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, in an attack on regulation of light bulbs, recently resurrected old complaints about low-flow toilets. In a Gail Collins column in the NY Times, he is quoted as saying, “You busybodies always want to tell us how we can live our lives better. I’ve been waiting for 20 years to talk about how bad these toilets are.”
What we really need is a way to flush unsubstantiated assertions out of the national discourse. Though he should know better, given his leadership position, Mr. Paul is suffering from a common malady--a point of view based on limited and very dated information.
Back in 1997, when the federal government passed a law requiring that all new toilets use a maximum of 1.6 gallons of water per flush, editorial boards and comedians seized on the issue as an example of regulatory excess. I researched the issue and was surprised to learn that the national regulation had actually been requested by the industry, and that many companies had responded by designing effective toilets that conformed to the regulations. In the last couple years, companies have developed designs that use even less water and yet far outperform the pre-1997 toilets.
There are two stories here. One is that government regulation can challenge industry to innovate in ways it would not have otherwise. The other aspect is that it is foolhardy to base critiques on old information. While falsely criticizing government regulation, Mr. Paul unwittingly casts aspersions on a constituency he likely supports: the many companies who responded to regulation by designing better products for their customers.