As I am writing this, thousands of gallons of oil are gushing out of the bottom of the ocean and threatening to destroy the wetlands and beaches of several southern states. We all know that this disaster could have been prevented with just a little bit more regulation and oversight. Why didn’t it happen? Why are the oil companies allowed to drill without adequate backup systems in water that was too deep for standard recovery efforts?
The needed supervision doesn’t exist partly because conservative ideology insists that all regulations are bad for the economy, kill jobs and are even un-American. They have been pounding this mantra into the American psyche for decades. When disasters like this happen, they simply stop talking for awhile until the problem goes away and then they inevitably start in again on the familiar themes.
For conservatives, it all comes down to freedom. They say that every time the government gets involved, freedom loses. To a certain extent, they are right. There are very few laws written that are not restrictive in some way, but that does not mean they aren’t necessary. Even simple traffic laws are all about what you can’t do and what you must do. You can’t go more than the speed limit. You have to stop at stop signs. You can’t drive on the sidewalk. We may feel that these are all basic common sense ideas, but each one of them is a government regulation that was designed to solve a problem and keep the public safe. They also restrict your personal freedom. Every time you obey a stop sign, you are giving up the freedom to plow right through it. But imagine if you had the ability to write your own personal traffic laws. What if you had the money and influence to lobby the government to let you run any stop sign that you saw? You could move through traffic faster and spend less money on fuel. It would be a pretty sweet deal for you, but a nightmare for anybody that was forced to share the road with you. In this case, your personal freedom comes at the expense of everybody else’s personal safety. All of a sudden, regulations, applied judiciously and fairly, don’t seem like that bad of an Idea. But still, conservatives continue to tell us that government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.
Americans do value freedom, but we also want some assurance that the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink is safe. Government regulations are an efficient way to provide us with those assurances. Again, regulations are restrictive in nature. They will cost industry more money, effort and time. Those trade-offs, however, are worth the price. Regulations make sure that there are less workplace accidents and deaths. Regulations made cars safer and cleaner with seat belts, air bags and emissions standards. Regulations insure that there are fire escapes, fire alarms and sprinkler systems in tall buildings. On the other hand, without regulations, we get oil spills in the gulf that can’t be stopped and that threaten to destroy millions of acres of wild lands as well as the livelihoods of millions of people.
If the oil stops, rest assured that the conservative propaganda machine will once again start demonizing all government regulations as evil incarnate. They will pretend that industry can do no wrong and your personal freedom is under attack by big government. Just remember that if conservative ideology defeats common sense, companies like BP will not only be able to cut the occasional corner, they will be able to forget that the corners ever existed. Do you really want the oil industry choosing what rules they decide to follow? Do you really want to roll the dice again and hope that big business does the right thing on their own?
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