Depicting government as the enemy
Since the Reagan era, it has been fashionable and clever to suggest that government "cannot solve problems; it IS the problem." This claim has gone unchallenged, politically, and successive administrations have rushed headlong to "starve the beast". That is, to eliminate government services through denying government the tax money it requires to operate. We hope that at some point this demagoguery will run its course and people of principle will acknowledge that "the greater good" requires a certain level of governmental expenditure (and tax revenue).
One would think that recently we have seen enough spectacular examples of the importance and necessity of certain government services to modulate the rabid attack on government:
Lack of attention to accounting and tax standards allowed Enron to manipulate energy, causing brown-outs in California and eventually wiping out billions of dollars of ordinary people's jobs, investments, and retirements.
The failure to raise adequate taxes to address decaying infrastructure caused the collapse of one of many wornout bridges (in Minneapolis) and the death of 13 people.
The government management of levees in New Orleans, and its subsequent management of Hurricane Katrina was badly handcuffed by inadequate resources and by the appointment of political hacks to important administrative positions. No one disputes that our government's handling of Katrina was an embarrassment: it was caused in part by a policy of appointing to positions of regulatory authority persons who have publicly expressed their contempt for goverrnment regulation. Our prior blog entries addressing the Consumer Product Safety Commission listed many examples of this contemptuous treatment of regulation in the Bush administration.
The failure to allow the Consumer Product Safety Commision to regulate the import of consumer products has resulted in massive importation of unsafe products from China, including tires that lack standard blow-out protection, childrens' jewelry and toys with accessible lead, and poisoned toothpaste. Studies have documented that the power to force product recalls (after defective products have begun to cause injury) only pull less than ten percent of the recalled products out of the stream of commerce.
The Mine disaster in Utah is yet another example of how lax regulation costs lives. The failure to adequately discipline, sanction and regulate Mr. Robert Murray's 19 U.S. mines and his unsafe mining practices has now caused 9 deaths in Utah's Crandall Canyon Mine. These are not the first deaths at a Murray mine. A 22 year mining veteran in Murray's No. 6 Alledonia, Ohio, mine bled to death in 2001 when available first aid was inadequate--resulting in a fine of $15,000.00. Murray's Crandall Canyon Mine was cited 33 times for health and safety violations in 2007, alone; his most frequently cited mine is in Galatia, Illinois: it has accumulated 850 federal violations so far in 2007, with $1.46 million in fines. In 2003, Murray's Owensboro, Kentucky mine operation was convicted by a jury of criminal safety violations and fined 1.4 million dollars: it appealed and ultimately paid only $300,000.00.
While Murray claims that he had not changed mining practices at Crandall Canyon, and that the 2007 deaths were the product of a "seismic event", scientists and university researchers unanimously disagree with the latter claim, and public records dispute the former claim. Crandall Canyon's prior owner, Andalex Resources had determined that it was too risky to mine coal barrier pillars in the mine (a process called "retreat" mining), but the federal mining agency approved just such a plan for Murray at the beginning of this year.
Even if someone were obtuse and callous enough to argue that the lives of theCrandall Canyon miners and the heroic rescuers who died attempting to help them had little value, it is very clear that ultimately Crandall Canyon has not been managed with economic efficiency. Millions of dollars have now been spent on the ill-fated rescue effort: In the long run, compliance with reasonable safety standards and appropriate regulation are cheaper than the ultimate cost of anarchic and illusory voluntary self-regulation. This is true, whether the casualties of non-regulation are broken bodies, busted pensions, a despoiled environment or a collapsed infrastructure. Ultimately, what gives our nation strength is the maintenance of an educated populace with a stable and efficient infrastructure (physical, financial and judicial). China of 2007 clearly demonstrates the alternative to a reasonably regulated economy and culture, and it is not the example we would hold out to our children.