A Titanic Mistake?

Job-killing regulations. 

In this political climate, is  there any other adjective for regulations?  Generally, the Tea Party, with the encouragement of the Wall Street Journal have led the drumbeat that the economy and the world would be great if there were a freeze on regulations or other changes in law to make  up-to-date standards more difficult to implement.  Even usually reasonable Senators as Senator Snowe (R-ME) have introduced and promoted a bill that would stop updating standards for a year. Her argument is the discredited talking point that updating standards just cost jobs though research has shown, regulations are not job killers but are often key incentives for innovation.  In the automobile industry alone, standards have led to hybrid cars, pollution reducing catalytic converters, and thousands of deaths averted by seat and shoulder belts.  This weekend Thomas Freidman noted that the strategy to cripple the government's ability to act has grave implications. He wrote

"The Financial Times columnist Ed Luce, the author of the new book 'Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent,' notes that if you believe the fantasy that America’s economic success derives from having had a government that stayed out of the way, then gridlock and vetocracy are just fine with you. But if you have a proper understanding of American history — so you know that government played a vital role in generating growth by maintaining the rule of law, promulgating regulations that incentivize risk-taking and prevent recklessness, educating the work force, building infrastructure and funding scientific research — then a vetocracy becomes a very dangerous thing."

Most regulations are put in place to protect the public from the many things they cannot protect themselves on their own  -- tainted food, dangerous working conditions, or air and water pollution.  It cannot go on unchallenged that the drumbeat to protect corporations by stopping or slowing down standards for food, air or water pollution comes at a high cost in our health and our quality of life.

So, it was surprising to read that, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the cause of the high number of the deaths in the sinking of the Titanic was inadequate regulations!

According to the article, the British Board of Trade never updated regulations for the number of lifeboats despite the fact that the ships were significantly bigger since they had last updated the rules.  Although courts have made it clear that companies have a responsibility to use a reasonable standard of care, even at levels that are more protective than the rules, the blame is put on outdated regulations. 

The most recent environmental and economic events were also due to inadequate regulations – the collapse of the marketplace in 2008, and the BP Horizon Disaster in the Gulf.

Many in the Congress and Wall Street Journal editorial response is, of course, less regulation, more drilling with less protections, and the repeal of Dodd-Frank

After the Titanic disaster, legislation was passed that would require enough lifeboats for all passengers. 

Such a law did pass with the objection of the business press.

According to a New York Times editorial on January 13, 1914 “… the bill is written for the Seaman’s Union and to make jobs” on board U.S. vessels in international, coastwise and inland trade. The bill’s effect, said the New York Times editorial, would be to “mandate three times the number of men required and promote idleness and lack of discipline.” The Times also predicted U.S. vessels would be uncompetitive with foreign ships and therefore cause a loss of U.S. jobs.

I guess the pro-business press doesn’t change, just which press.

Let’s not wait for another titanic disaster before we realize that regulations save lives, level the playing field, and protect our environment.