Government regulation has long been characterized as a ball-and-chain around the ankle of American business. Government regulation is often vilified as pointless, dreamed-up by bureaucrats and regulators for no other reason than to justify their own jobs. A needless, self-perpetuating red-tape industry.
Or worse, that government regulations are used to advance a secret left-wing agenda. The EPA comes in for a lot criticism on that front. (You mean I can’t build my factory here because of a nesting sand finch!? What kind of hippie-dippie anti-capitalist BS is THAT?)
Perhaps it is the political aspect that has caused a wave of anti-regulation sentiment in Washington and in some states. Now, I’m not saying that all regulation is needful and proper, or that some industries aren’t over-regulated and in need of relief. But still, let’s take a minute to remember the reason we have government regulation in the first place: unscrupulous businesses and corporations that put their profits before the health and safety of American citizens.
Government regulation had its start with the Pure Food and Drug act of 1906 (signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt—you can read Mark Matteson’s affectionate homage to T.R. and his leadership style here). Before that, ground-up rat in the sausage meat, methyl alcohol in the patent medicine, and formaldehyde as a food preservative were all quite legal. Government regulation probably reached its peak in 1976 when Richard Nixon established the EPA.
The thing of is that now, being anti-regulation has become such a strong political signifier that some perfectly good regulations and programs are being thrown out the window just to score points with the electorate.
Take for example the WaterSense program. A better model for public-private partnership, and a more worthwhile example of government regulation you could not hope to find. It’s basically a testing and labeling system that helps consumers make smart choices about the water-using products and services they buy. Over the last decade it has saved Americans three trillion gallons of water and billions of dollars. An incredible value, considering the program only costs the federal government about three million dollars a year to run.
But for the past three years the president’s budget has called for the elimination of the program. When Congress voted to authorize it—meaning it was no longer subject to discontinuation—the administration decided instead to zero out its budget. (You can read all about the fight to save the program in Kelly Faloon’s cover story on the PILC.)
Or look at the situation in Texas right now. The legislature has voted to abolish the State Board of Plumbing Examiners. As of September 1st (barring a special session by the Governor) there will be no regulation of plumbers or plumbing inspectors.
I’ve read the abolishment bill and I just can’t understand what the Texas legislature was thinking. Maybe hoping that cities and municipalities would somehow move to fill the void? On the face of it, it just looks to me like a shameful dereliction of their responsibilities.
I’ve seen what happens when you let untrained people loose on plumbing systems. I have online galleries full of examples. And sometimes it’s just a sink that stinks to high heaven and always gets clogged. But sometimes it’s a cross-contamination that sickens dozens. And sometimes it’s a carbon monoxide leak that kills an entire family.
If this is not the role of government—protecting the lives and well-being of its citizens—then what is? And how bad does it have to get before this insanity comes to an end?
[Editors note: since this editorial was published, Texas Governor Abbott has issued an order to extend the activity of the Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners through May of 2021. His order is based on his emergency powers in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and should give the Texas legilsature the time it needs to address the situation, without having to hold a special session. CONTRACTOR will continue to report on the situation as it develops.]