Monday, May 4, 2009

What Should Be Regulated?

Republicans and the right-wing media are framing Barack Obama as being a "socialist." They complain that there is too much government regulation. They want government to get out of our lives and not control what we do. Unless of course they are refering to what we do in our bedrooms.

Daily Kos has an interesting article,
How Freedom Was Lost, about the need for government regulation because unregulated business does not self regulate.
In recent days there seems to be a trend, especially among those nodding along to Fox News, to look on every government worker as a leach on society. Is there any term said with more innate disdain than government bureaucrat? When George W. Bush first ran for congress, he campaigned for the elimination of two government agencies -- OSHA and the EPA. It's a position that would draw many cheers from those pulling for Rick Perry's rebellion today.

If there is one critical difference between the conservative and progressive view of the nation it is this: Conservatives believe that America became a vibrant, wealthy nation in spite of the government's burden on business. Progressives believe that the United States prospered because of a national effort to reign in the worst of corporate excess.

Over a century, we became a country with safety rules, with environmental regulations, with protection for the elderly. Over that same century our economy and individual wealth outstripped both our historical bests and the record of the rest of the world. Progressives see that as victory. Conservatives call it coincidence.

It's tempting to run the experiment of giving conservatives what they want. A nation without environmental rules, without workplace safety rules, without any social safety nets. Free them from the reign of bureaucrats and petty regulations. Let them live in that place where the medicine you give your baby to ease her teething pains can be made with antifreeze. Let them work in a mine where there is no regulation and thousands die each year. Let them wonder if their next bite of food will put them among the 1.8 million who die horribly each year from severe food-borne cases of diarrhea. Let them drive a car that will fall apart in the slightest collision. Let them breath free air, untainted by government interference -- air you can really sink your teeth into.

Fortunately, we don't have to run that experiment -- because we already did it. That's how we got where we are today. All those areas of our lives became regulated, because left unregulated people overreached to unsafe, and frequently hideous degrees. There would be no Clean Air Act if companies had controlled pollution on their own. There'd be no need to regulate banks, had they not demonstrate time and again that without supervisions they'll chase short term profit into a pit -- and drag the rest of us after them.

America isn't the only example of this experiment. This is an study that's been made hundreds of time in hundreds of nations, and the absolute freedom of the marketplace always runs counter to the good of ordinary citizens. Always. Those places in the world with the fewest restrictions on business are not the places anyone would really want to live. They're not even good places to do business if your task is more complex than ripping resources out of the ground and shipping them to some place that's safer. Business and government must reach a compromise if either is to be effective.

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