There is an old saying that one “never sees smoke without fire.” It is a truism which affirms what science has long embraced — the principles of cause and effect. If, for example, a person decides to jump off the top of a 20-storey high-rise building without a parachute such an action will, more than likely, end in death. From another standpoint, the existence of traffic lights and of pedestrian crossings at major intersections suggest that some things which were inconvenient or tragic might have occurred which necessitated their invention and their implementation over time. By the same token, any form of government regulation with respect to the economy, especially in terms of consumer safety, must be traced back to the epicentral catalysts which gave rise to the reasons for such regulations. What must also be borne in mind is why some in American society, supported by the advocacy of the folks known as political “Libertarians” and their supporters over at the conservative think tank, the Cato Institute, want to see the removal of all government regulations in the world of American commerce. On their part, as well, where one sees smoke there must be a smoldering or a raging fire somewhere.
Whereas it might be easy to extrapolate or to divine the reasons behind the establishment of rules and regulations in such regard, whether with respect to the processes of the production or the consumption of goods, the reasons might not always be obvious or clear in terms of the motivation behind such advocacy for their removal. Could it be that the captains of industry are so morally disciplined, so eminently wise, so socially conscious and so altruistically selfless that society does not need to worry about any missteps, or about any nefarious or dangerous dealings on their part? Should labels on consumer products, for instance, which detail their ingredients, including their intended benefits with proper usage and their deleterious side effects when they are misused, be discarded all together?
If this writer recalls from all that he has read and observed, the fire of profit making, which has been burning within the engines of industry, is what is responsible for calls for deregulation in the economy and nothing more.
One can understand, even if one does not necessarily agree, the calls from business leaders for various strategies in order to safeguard their profit margins, with such measures, for example, as the reduction of taxes, the removal of wage and price controls, and the repeal of environmental demands which affect their “bottom line”. Granted, the United States is a capitalist society and it has been so since its inception and it is likely to remain so until the end of time. But, in making and in maximizing profits, which comprise the essence of laissez-faire economics, are there no reasonable limits or safeguards? Are there no other important considerations?
There are reams of newspaper articles and tomes of legal documentary evidence which reveal American industry when it was not at its best — highlighted by numerous tragic outcomes. A glaring case in point is the tobacco industry when it, in 1954, against scientific findings, misled the public into thinking, by saying, that it would implement good-faith changes in its products as the public’s health was its concern above all others. What followed were decades of deceit and actions that cost millions of lives.
Another example is that of the oil industry which experienced an unprecedented wave of lawsuits, filed by cities and states across the U.S., which were aimed at holding the oil and gas industry to account for the environmental devastation caused by fossil fuels — and for covering up what they had known along the way.
On the island of Maui, Hawaii, in respect to the tragic events which transpired there recently, resulting in mounting deaths, what led to that catastrophic event? Recently, Hawaii’s largest power company was hit with a lawsuit alleging that it was negligent and reckless in the operation of its infrastructure which contributed to the Lahaina fire — one of multiple blazes that engulfed the island. The lawsuit also alleged that the power company failed to clear vegetation, failed to maintain its equipment, and failed to de-energize its power lines in a timely manner, and that despite possessing knowledge of wildfires generally and of inclement weather warnings, it did nothing.
Hawaiian Electric, the lawsuit claimed, designed, constructed, inspected and maintained its electrical equipment in an unreasonable, negligent, and reckless manner. If these allegations prove to be true in court, then the consequences could be frighteningly extensive and grossly injurious for the company, financially. But, regardless of the outcome of this case, this is part and parcel of the sort of government regulations that many within American industry would like to see the back of.
Can the country, therefore, in light of this and other events like the one in Maui, afford to repeal laws which have been instituted with the public’s best interest in mind? Is that common sense? Is that humanity? Perhaps the following words of Thomas A. Edison captured the attitude of some in society in their pursuit of material wealth: “Hell, there are no rules here — we’re trying to accomplish something.”
If the political Libertarians and the Cato Institute were to have their way, then the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is an independent agency of the United States Government, would be dismantled and all potential threats to consumers would go unchecked. The FTC’s principal mission is the enforcement of civil (non-criminal) antitrust law and the promotion of consumer protection. The idea of government regulations which, admittedly, does have the potential for the institutionalization of unnecessary and burdensome laws, with attendant bureaucratic red-tape, should not be summarily and cavalierly eradicated, accordingly. One should not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Any call for deregulation, therefore, should always be answered with a reassessment done within the context of history and scientific research findings. We must face the fact that no process or product is perfect, and that the various industries in the country are run by flawed men and women who can be tempted and are often ensnared by unbridled avarice. They are similar to those characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings, who were besotted with and deceived by a small, radiant circle of gold, forged and engraved by dark forces with a desire for unbridled and invincible power.
Show this writer a society which needs no regulations and he will show you a utopian community populated by angels. Show him a way of living and of working without the need for any accountability or redress and he will show you a dimension free of errors, of accidents, of tears and of regret.