Too Little Government

Submitted by Charles Sackrey

In a recent letter to the local paper, one reader claims that, “Top scientists now agree that man has little or nothing to do with global warming…. “ He also suggests that that we are “destroying the oceans with greed and stupidity.” His claim about the “top” scientists is simply wrong, not worthy of detailed response. However, his second argument is insightful, and I would like to add to it.

My view is that Americans took a giant step toward “destroying our oceans” in 1980 when we elected Ronald Reagan, mainly because he initiated the now long-running war the Republican Party continues to fight against government regulation. They are winning this war, and the rest of us are losing, big time. The resulting fear, even hatred, of our government is a sadly oversimplified and self-destructive view of how our economy works, and I will try to explain why.

As I hope many readers will agree, the dead fish and ruined beaches along the Gulf Coast are mostly a result of an insufficiency of government regulation. This catastrophe is occurring because British Petroleum was powerful enough to use a drilling rig that was not adequately designed or tested; it had, indeed, come to a point where it hardly had to answer to anyone. BP was given a free reign because it could largely ignore its government overseer, the U.S. Mineral Management Service. One major officer of MMS came to it from BP, and its director has been fired because of the Agency’s incompetence and cozy relations which many of the firms it was supposed to regulate.

In other words, the BP disaster is not the consequence of big government trampling on our freedoms, but a government agency that had become more of its friend than its regulator. The problem in this case was too little government, not too much.

Deregulated big business is also the root cause of the current deep recession. In this case, a small cadre of unquenchably greedy financiers rewrote the rules to serve their needs only. Their trickery and thievery, and the world depression they ushered in for us, occurred because of the deregulation of the financial sector in the late 1990s. By then, Bill Clinton and the Democrats had joined the genuinely thoughtless “free market” choir. His chief economic advisers joined Alan Greenspan to suppress a study from the Securities and Exchange Commission warning of the great hazards of an unregulated derivatives market. As in the case of BP, unregulated capitalism raised its ugly head and is now biting us all.

It surely does not surprise me that powerful, multinational corporations would want to get rid of the rules of the game. What puzzles me is why so many people, not rich and powerful, have come to see “the government,” rather than these corporations, as the major impediment to what they consider as their freedom. In fact, the greatest threat to our democratic rights are the giant firms who will stop at nothing to increase their profits. Therefore, we need to stop them with strict rules for their behavior, including prison sentences rather than fines when they break the rules and damage the rest of us. The quicker we realize that, the better.