October 29, 2014:
No doubt like many of yours, my email inbox has been bombarded with political appeals, almost all of them for money, from the Democratic Party, mostly with scare quotes along the lines of "we're ruined," or "it's too late" or any number of other themes to the effect that my $5 is going to make all the difference. I did at one point give them a small amount of money, which only intensified the whole process. Four, five, ten appeals a day.
But I can't blame them. In more ways than one, politics is all about money, who has it and who doesn't and how to best implement the getting of it, for one group or another. I was thinking about this at Starbuck's this morning while reading a review of a book about the great English political philosopher Edmund Burke, and the review emphasized the complexity of his thought and this somehow led me to think about the complexity of economies, the enormous minuet of products, buying and selling, worldwide trade, building and tearing down, banks, stocks and bonds, on and on and, well, here I am, wondering how far the Republicans will go if they win both houses of Congress. Because Republicans do not believe in complexity. In the name of what they call the free market, they will do their best to simplify, as they have to been trying to do for many years, the economy, and eliminate as many Federal regulations as they can. And that will be a disaster.
The free market. What a joke that is. The free market will regulate itself, they claim. Right. Do away with the Food and Drug Administration and its rules and regulations and what will happen? Why, it stands to reason in their minds, evidently, contaminated food will be driven out by uncontaminated food, which will certainly happen in a free market, people being as rational as they supposedly are. So it stands to reason that producers should be allowed to sell contaminated food because the market will take care of it? Really? We should take the federal inspectors out of the meat factories, the state inspectors out of the restaurants, and the drug testers out of their labs, and let the public sort if out on their own? What this means is clear enough. Members of the public will die in the service of this thing called the free market, until the public as a whole finally figures out, WTF--we're supposed to be guinea pigs for cutthroat capitalism?
Regulations are not historically something an evil government dreamed up to control our lives, our entrepreneurial instincts. Ultimately regulations come from the public, not the government itself. They come from public demands, developed over time in a host of different industries, for safety and efficiency--for safe meat, safe drugs, safe air travel, safe and efficient roads. Would the Republicans want to eliminate the air traffic regulations that ensure planes don't start crashing into each other? Or is this BS about the free market, as the cynical among us believe, all about the Koch brothers, the vast sums of money they invest in buying political power, and eliminating the rules that govern carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere? The Koch brothers, it would appear, would happily burn us all into oblivion if it increased their profits on a carload of coal.
This has been going on for well over a century. Miners died by the thousands until regulations were instituted to make mining safer for miners. They still die because mine owners ignore those regulations--it's always cheaper to ignore them--and try to get away with it. Does anybody really think that the public all by itself will inquire as to where the coal that fires power plants comes from, thereby singling out bad producers from good, as if that were even possible? We the public demand regulations because it's obvious that industries of all kinds will not police themselves, will not and do not if they can get away with it. Because it's all about money. Industry is not about public service, it's about profit for the owners of industry. The Center for Disease Control--will they want to get rid of that, too? Witness the panic generated by the current Ebola crisis, way out of proportion to the actual danger. The public demands protection. The government complies. All that regulatory paperwork--my Republican brother used to complain about it, on behalf of his business clients--well, the paperwork comes out of business itself, out of its crimes against the public, its indifference to the public good, its exclusive interest in profit.
In local communities, we take regulation for granted. We have zoning regulations, regulations on the size of houses on lots, school safety regulations, sewer treatment regulations, and we rely on them. I, personally, am not fond of shitting in the woods, and don't want to take a walk in any woods where people do this. So it's against the law, except, perhaps, in Alaska. I want environmental regulations that prevent the fouling of water supplies. In my community I founded and was the first chairman of the local architectural review board and we had the power to deny building applications because the architecture or some other facet of the building did not conform to various standards, including aesthetic standards. One result? Our little village was recently voted by an American planning associations as having one of the ten best main streets in the United States. How many main streets have we all seen made ugly by a community's failure to regulate?
Republicans seem prepared to let business do whatever it wants, wherever it wants. That's their definition of freedom. This is not freedom, it's license. A totally different thing. We have regulations, rules, laws because we need them, and because we want them. "The main business of America is business," said Calvin Coolidge. Not so, Calvin. Calvin must never have read the founders, who understood perfectly well that a commitment to freedom was not equivalent to a commitment to profit. Jefferson died broke. George Washington gave up profit when he freed his slaves in his will. Things are much more complex than the Republicans want us to think.