Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Baby and the Bathwater


The picture you see was taken from a blog post about a coal mine explosion that occurred on April 6, 2010.  It’s alleged that Massey Energy, owner of the mine, concealed records of safety defects from government regulators. 

Crash! The sound of blasted rock and screams echoed through the cavern. The miners and I, we ran to the sound. Rubble, and debris filled the room, as black dust burnt our eyes. The foul stench of methane numbed my senses, as the taste of iron filled my mouth. Suddenly, a thick wave of heat overwhelmed me.

To see how this story ends, click HERE.

But the story, really, is only just beginning.  The rest of the story is about what happens next.   Who will win, the coal miners, or the company?  Will we continue to have noxious government regulations controlling every aspect of the coal mine and making it impossible to make a profit?  Will we throw out the regulations and, instead, look the other way when mine explosions cost lives? 

So, yeah, this post is about the very boring subject of government regulations. 

What role should government take in our lives, and what is the role of the people in that decision?   There is a serious political agenda of de-regulating all sorts of matters that were previously controlled by government.  Is this a good idea? 

Beginning with Reagan’s deregulation of the banking and airline industries, and continuing on through today’s Tea Party and Libertarian demands to dismantle government and get government out of people’s lives.  When people advocated getting rid of “government programs,” do they realize what they really mean by that?

I recently heard of someone complaining about “government programs,” only to find out that he was complaining about the existence of taxes from a local government sewer authority.  Now, do we really want to eliminate public sewer services in cities?  Doesn’t it seem that these are offered for a reason? 

I believe that today people are forgetting that the reason behind those damn government regulations, is that the alternative can be worse. 

If you recall the plague that decimated the population of Athens, Greece, as described by Thucydides, I’m sure you’ll remember that it was spread by the nasty things that were flowing through the open sewers.




Photograph of

Athenian sewer, which was open to the air like a canal.  Photo is from a web page, HERE 


Is this what we want for our culture, or no sewers at all?

Of course, they say that people who don’t know their history, are bound to repeat it.  


This is a painting which depicts the plague of Naples, source is HERE


I don’t know about you, but I want good government, not gutted government.  

I’d prefer not to die from Plague, or cholera, or other nasty things we humans catch when we live around each other with no sanitation.  And I don’t want men to die in unsafe coal mines, either, even if imposing safety regulations would cause the coal mine to shut down.  Do you? 

There’s a reason for “government”. There’s a reason for safety regulations in coal mines, just as there is a reason for OSHA regulations, or for the FDA, or for the USDA.   My view is that we need to make the regulations better, make government better, not just throw the baby out with the bathwater.    However, this requires a bit more sophisticated analysis than just "yes" or "no", "black" or "white". 

It also means we must engage in conversation with the “other side”.  We need to listen to each other, balance interests, and find a middle way.   

Too bad that today’s partisan politics is the opposite of what we need.  Today’s political climate is built on the adrenaline of the news environment.  Every story must be shocking.  Every public policy argument must be a drama. 

To satisfy the demand for political discourse that is as easy to understand as a soap opera, cartoonishly drawn arguments, caricatures of any reality,  are pitted against one another, with a winner triumphing over a loser in a take-no-prisoners battle over policy.  And of course then the loser gets back in power by proving that the other side’s policy is a failure.  How?  By sabotaging it.  

How can America get back to democracy?  How do we get back to values of decency and fair play?  How do we get back to reasonable public policy, policy that puts regulations in place that protect workers’ lives and then enforces those regulations, without placing unreasonable burdens on business? 

This will be a major challenge, not only if we are to survive as a nation but if humans are to survive as a thriving presence on our planet. 

At one time, when there were fewer people, problems in one area didn’t necessarily spill over to affect problems in another.  We all had plenty of land and the oceans were large to absorb our wars and pollution.  But no longer. 

War refugees flow across international borders to destabilize governments on either side, pollution crosses international boundaries and destroys ecosystems of entire oceans. 

There is no longer room in the earth for cowboys.  We all live in a crowded neighborhood. 

So now, let’s figure out how to get along. 

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