Columns » Ernest Dumas

New fraud: Regulation is bad


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In the catalog of imagined horrors inflicted upon the nation by a merciless government, none is more enduring, at least in the minds of big business and the Republican right, than regulation.

They have invoked it for 40 years, since President Nixon, Republican, signed all those laws regulating discharges into the country's air, lakes and streams and forcing businesses to have clean and safe workplaces.

Last week the Republicans used their big majority in the House of Representatives to pass a nonsensical bill to halt new federal regulation. Every important regulation on business would hereafter have to be approved by both houses of Congress. It would quadruple the workload of Congress, which cannot now even pass routine budget bills, and virtually guarantee that no act of Congress dealing with the health, safety and financial security of the American people would ever again be implemented.

But it was just theater. No one seriously thought that could work or should become law. But the Republican congressmen all rushed out boilerplate statements crowing about their votes to create jobs by voting to stop President Obama from imposing burdensome rules on those desperate good people, "the job creators."

Rep. Tim Griffin sent the media a statement claiming that he had just voted to stop the heavy hand of Barack Obama from "crushing Arkansas job creators." He didn't identify the Arkansas employers or potential employers whom the president and his bureaucrats were crushing and how they were doing it.

If he were pressed, he would probably say it's those forthcoming rules to control greenhouse gases, coal ash and other pollutants from fossil fuels, a list supplied by the coal and petrochemical industries and electric utilities.

Griffin would be hard-pressed to show that less government regulation produces jobs. He was a mole in the best laboratory for that research, the George W. Bush administration. (Griffin worked in the White House political office.) Bush came into office denouncing the excessive regulation of the Bill Clinton administration and promising to be more obliging of industry. He put lawyers, lobbyists and executives from industries in the jobs regulating their industries, and regulation came to a virtual standstill, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the other financial regulators. Bush's EPA refused to carry out the Clean Air Act even after the conservative U.S. Supreme Court said it was obliged to.

How did all that work out, congressman?

The economy produced a net growth of almost 23 million jobs under the extreme duress of the Clinton regulators. In the caress of the Bush regulators, the job creators produced a hair over 1 million jobs—the worst eight-year jobs record since the Great Depression. We need more of that, Griffin says.

The regulatory bugbear does go back largely to Nixon and to the Democratic Congress that worked so closely with him.

There was the hated Occupational Safety and Health Act, signed by Nixon in 1970, requiring all private and government employers to provide a workplace free of toxic chemicals, mechanical dangers and unsanitary conditions. For 20 years, industries denounced OSHA regulations and pointed to ridiculous sounding rules. They were supposed to be costing millions of jobs.

You hear the complaints only rarely now. One reason is that some 14,000 workers were killed or died from workplace accidents or sicknesses every year then. It's down to a little over 4,000 a year now although employment has almost doubled. Injury rates and work-related sicknesses have dropped dramatically, from 11 per 100 workers in 1972, when the rules went into effect, to 3.5 per 100 workers now.

All the consumer product safety rules that Republicans are raging about now? That pretty much started with Nixon and his firebrand consumer affairs director, Virginia Knauer, who died, incidentally, the other day at 96.

All the current fuss about regulation is over the implementation of the Clean Air Act, signed by Nixon, along with the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. When a major air pollutant is identified, the EPA is supposed to adopt regulations to bring it under control. Now it's carbon dioxide, mercury, nitric acids and other contributors to global warming.

Congress and their regulatory lackeys acted upon the growing alarm of Americans about polluted lakes, rivers and harbors, the smothering smog and deteriorating quality of the air over major cities like Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago (and, yes, Little Rock), the acid rain that was killing forests in the industrial heartland and the rising incidence of respiratory diseases among children and the elderly.

All those horrors are much better, thanks to regulation, and some day we will combat greenhouse gases, too, though maybe too late. It is well to remember that the Griffins and the chambers of commerce all those years said the rules were excessive and job killing.


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