What’s so wrong with government regulating business? I’m not saying government should totally control an industry. But shouldn’t it set and enforce rules that help guide companies and limit the chance they’ll cause the public great harm?

Though regulation is an unpopular topic in today’s business world, we have regulation for the same reason we have referees at football games and umpires at baseball games. We may not always agree with the rules or every call, but we recognize that they are vital to making the game run smoothly and fairly.

In commerce, such outcomes affect the livelihoods of millions of people, so good regulation, or government refereeing, is even more important.

Regulation doesn’t always work right. The skill and judgment of the referee or regulator can make or break a sporting event—or an industry. Overly tight regulation can drag down the pace of the action, stifle superior performance, and even discourage participation. Regulation that’s too loose is as bad as no regulation at all. And regulation that’s biased or uninformed can make a total mess of things.

The best referees or regulators let the action run freely as long as it stays within the pre-set rules and is not causing harm.

We’ve seen the effects of too little regulation, for example, the oil-leak mess now plaguing the Gulf Coast. Or the uncorrected violations that led to the recent explosion in a West Virginia coal mine.

Good regulations and vigilant regulators make industries better for those who work in them – and for those of us who live with their work.