I was watching television with some friends recently, and during a commercial for some new model of panty liner a friend asked if anyone else was "disturbed by the amount of research being put into creating new feminine hygiene products. After all, how many different types of tampons and panty liners does the world really need?"
Like most things other people say, it got me thinking. Why IS there so much research going into feminine hygiene products, or indeed any other personal care product? Walk down the personal care aisle of any grocery store, and you'll see an amazing variety of products in every category. Whether it's toothbrushes, hair gel, antiperspirant, shampoo, facial cleanser, or hand lotion, consumers have a plethora of choices.
I think the primary reason for this vast array of variety is regulation, or rather, the lack thereof. These industries are incredibly vibrant because they're largely unregulated. Unlike heavily regulated industries there are very few barriers to entry for a small company that wants to make toothbrushes, toothpaste, or mouthwash. Putting a new brand of hair gel or conditioner on the shelf doesn't require expending resources meeting cumbersome safety rules. The products are safe because consumers wouldn't buy them if they weren't. There's incredible variety because it's simpler for smaller companies to compete. The playing field is level because no one company is hampered any more or less than another by the heavy hand of government. Greater competition means more innovation and research as companies search for ways to stay ahead of their competitors. This is why there are so many different brands and styles of panty liners on grocery store shelves.
Of course, this condition is not at all unique to personal care products. In any un- (or at least less-) regulated industry there will always be more research, greater innovation, higher quality, and lower prices. Witness the computer hardware industry, for instance, or the television industry. These are almost entirely unregulated, and so they are incredibly vibrant. Computer hardware gets faster, better, and cheaper every day, and televisions get larger, cheaper, and have better picture quality all the time. There is no reason the same would not be true of any industry that currently suffers from government oversight. Whether it's health care, education, banking, or otherwise, freeing resources for innovation by reducing government regulation will always result in better, safer, less expensive products and services.