Published on October 22nd, 2018 | by Zachary Shahan0
Merit Of More Regulation vs Less Regulation Is Debatable In A Vacuum, But Not In The USA
October 22nd, 2018 by Zachary Shahan
There are many debates that are fun and interesting in a vacuum. Theoretical debates can go on forever on some subjects. But what matters when it comes to politics and policy is the existing reality, and where to go from there.
Supposedly, a fundamental debate between Republicans and Democrats in the US is whether the federal government should be more or less active in protecting and guiding society. But the key question is “more or less active” compared to what? And on which topics? Democrats are not in favor of communism. And, presumably, Republicans are not in favor of libertarianism and anarchy — maybe.
The funny thing is, if you actually take this topic out of the abstract and apply it to real-life issues, US voters are heavily in favor of Democratic policies. I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first, a message from democracy:
The reasons we have Republicans controlling the House, Senate, and White House are varied. At the core, though, we have an imperfectly democratic society, which has led to minority control of the government. For example, 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, yet Trump is president. More people also voted for Al Gore in the year 2000, yet George W. Bush was given the presidency. Republicans in the Senate represent far fewer (millions fewer) Americans than Democrats and Independents represent, yet Republicans hold more than half of the seats (51). Unfortunately, this means by default that the US federal government is not acting in the interest of the majority of the population and democracy itself. But let’s move past that issue and get into some key policy matters.
Like Republicans, Democrats don’t favor excessive regulation. No significant political group favors over-regulation. On the flip side, both Democratic and Republican voters favor regulating certain harmful activities.
For example, Democrats would like polluting power plants and industries to be better regulated so that they produce less pollution, less cancer, less heart disease, and less premature death. Republican voters also favor this. But Republican politicians don’t — because Republican politicians have taken anti-government ideology to an extreme (many of them also get a lot of campaign funding and perhaps even personal wealth from polluting industries, but that’s more or less straight corruption, not a matter of extremist ideology).
As another example, voters of all parties support better regulation of Wall Street and the financial industry in order to help avoid another catastrophic economic collapse. Yet, Republican politicians have moved to deregulate Wall Street and the financial industry since taking power. This is almost certainly going to result in severe economic challenges for the US someday, which should be attributed to extremist deregulation, but will probably instead be attributed to whoever is in power when the collapse hits.
Poor regulation of pharmaceuticals and health care are mostly why pharmaceuticals and health care are so expensive in the USA (especially relative to all other developed economies where there’s much stronger regulation and lower prices). Nonetheless, Republicans have cut regulations since taking power, which is already leading to price increases and will do so more as the years go on. (In a mark of extreme cynicism and deception, some Republican politicians in tough races are now saying in campaign ads that they support things they have specifically voted or petitioned against.)
In Florida, there is one major topic that has been dominating public discourse, life, tourism, the economy, and political ads this year — red tide. When I was growing up and going to college here in Southwest Florida, we barely had red tide enough for me to know what it was. Upon returning with my European wife and daughters in June, I expected to spend day after day after day going to the wonderful white-sand beaches of the Gulf coast. Instead, red tide quickly hit and we couldn’t go to the beach for months. This is absolutely slamming thousands of businesses that are based on coastal activity in the Sunshine State, demonstrating yet one more time that environmental harm leads to economic harm.
The Democratic Party, of course, has been the party of environmental protection for years. Unfortunately, in Florida, we haven’t had a Democratic governor since the 1990s. Poor regulation has caused red tide to explode. Nonetheless, Republican politicians are now trying to blame Democrats for red tide in campaign ads. The only thing that is more absurd than that is that many voters will believe the obvious lies.
Republican obsession with lack of regulation has basically destroyed Florida’s #1 asset this year.
Furthermore, obsession with deregulation is a major cause of global warming, which leads to more frequent and larger hurricanes, another top threat to Florida.
When you fight regulation to an extreme extent, this is what you get — red tide, global warming, life-destroying pollution, and financial crises. Sometimes it takes years for the negative results to arrive (the Great Recession that stemmed in part of deregulation that started under President Ronald Reagan, for example), but they are guaranteed to result if you under-regulate potentially harmful activities.
One of the big lies of Republican Party leadership over the years has been the lie that regulation across the board hurts the economy. That is not true. As just noted, Florida’s economy is hurting badly from poor regulation — we need better regulation in order to cut back red tide. Another example is that poor regulation of financial industries led to the Great Recession. I say that Republican politicians are lying because they should have enough information in their hands explaining that some regulation is helpful for the economy, but they apparently refuse to look at it or share it.
Research has repeatedly shown that environmental regulation helps the economy, creates jobs, and can stimulate investment and important economic innovation. Indeed, Donald Trump’s rollback of important climate policies will cost the US economy billions or even hundreds of billions of dollars. A Harvard study found that the EPA’s carbon rule, which has been slaughtered by Trump, would offer $38 billion of economic benefit for Americans. Even the OECD has shown that regulation can boost the economy. Furthermore, climate inaction will cost us trillions of dollars more than climate action.
Image via John Brian Shannon
Even the golden child of anti-governmental Republican policy — the top item Republicans have pushed for and implemented every time they have enough power — has shown that it is often not good for the economy over time. That policy is tax cuts, cuts which predominantly favor billionaires but don’t strongly or even noticeably help the economy. Looking at the recent tax cuts passed by Republicans, 83% of the gains go to 1% of the population, and the benefits are not trickling down to the rest of us.
Another study has found that 65% of the federal tax cuts passed since 2000 have gone to just the richest 20% of the population.
Poor and middle class people who get tax credits or rebates generally spend that money on goods that support jobs and help the economy. Very rich people are mostly hoarding money in some way or another, which doesn’t support many jobs or boost the economy.
It is highly ironic that the political party that harms the environment in ways that severely hurt the economy, the political party that cuts taxes on the rich at the expense of the rest of the economy, is the political party that is supposed (but not really) good for jobs and the economy. Perhaps if we were a society more akin to communism, less regulation would be good. But we are on the opposite end of the spectrum. We are so deprived of regulation that the environment and economy are being harmed as a result. We need to boot Republican anti-government extremists from office and at least put into power more centrist Democrats (as well as progressive Democrats of course).