Is Regulation Needed in the First Place?
Although I'm not an expert on zoos, I would guess that there probably have been natural disasters in the past that breached the security of zoo enclosures and allowed the release of dangerous animals, or that resulted in animals dying cruel and unnecessary deaths. But that is only my guess, and I have no more concrete evidence for that than does my commenter in saying that zoos were fine without any such regulations.
I was addressing only the magicians with rabbits, where the rule was clearly excessive.
But I will also say this: If you go back in history, most regulations that we have today started out in response to a problem. Contrary to what some believe, they didn't originate for no reason at all in the halls of Congress, or from the cubicles of government bureaucrats.
They originated to solve a problem. And in most cases, they originated because of the obvious damage that had been caused when there were no rules in place. Think about banking. Think about monopolies. Think about contaminated food. Think about discrimination.
In reality, most regulations were only put in place after people were injured or killed, or after they'd suffered financially, or after they'd been treated unfairly.
I suspect that those early regulations engendered the same kinds of controversies that exist today. The industries of the day probably thought that things were fine without any regulations at all. That they could fix their own problems.
And just as surely, the regulations probably missed the mark in some way or another. Perhaps they didn't address all the problems. Or perhaps they went too far in some respects. That gets us back to the case of the rabbit and the magician.
It would be nice if everyone was smarter and and we could avoid these kinds of errors in the first place. But the solution is not to block regulation in the first place.
The first solution is to fix problems once they are identified, and hopefully, to fix them more expeditiously than has been the case in the past.
The second solution is to try to get smarter about developing regulations so we don't have as many problems. This, of course, is easier said than done. It requires the active involvement of regulators, industry, and other stakeholders. It requires everyone to look outside the box to think about finding solutions that minimize impediments to operations but at the same time address legitimate health, safety or other concerns. And it requires them to think about the magicians with rabbits.
It may actually be easier for this kind of interaction to take place in the nuclear area than in the case of caged animals, since magicians and rabbits don't usually participate in the regulatory process, but nuclear vendors, utilities, and public interest groups do.
But the more we try to think outside the box, the more issues there are to be considered, and that takes time, which is also a drawback.
Taking a knee-jerk stance against regulation is really just as short-sighted as thinking that more regulation is always better. The real point is that we need smart regulation. It is not easy to attain smart regulation in a complex and changing world, but we will never achieve that goal if we draw lines against regulation altogether.