President Barack Obama’s opinion editorial today adopts business and right-wing think-tank talking points about the harms of regulation and urges “balance” in achieving the right amount of regulation – not so little that we fail to protect the public, and not so much as to harm the economy.
This is the wrong way to think about regulation, and it is the wrong direction for the American people. Markets cannot function without proper regulation. That means businesses cannot function without proper regulation. We do not need a “balance” between regulation and the free market. We need effective regulations that foster the right types of markets.
The dominant fact of American life in recent years has been grossly inadequate public protections. In the past several years, under-regulation and corporate disregard of safety rules have resulted in multiple salmonella and E. coli outbreaks, a flood of lead-tainted toys, a massive and environmentally devastating oil spill, deadly mine disasters and the collapse of our economy, which has cost eight million American jobs. We need to focus most urgently on fixing these problems and others, not burden agencies, which already are overworked and under-resourced, with more internal reviews and red tape.
Republican leaders have signaled that they intend to challenge existing public protections, weaken agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and block the implementation of financial reform and other legislation. Some Democrats also have indicated a strong skepticism of regulation, if not an outright anti-regulatory bias.
The stakes could not be greater: At risk are our lives, our health and our economy. The administration should be preparing for a major fight to implement effective public protections on behalf of the American people – not echoing the Big Business’ talking points.
We will have to review the administration’s executive order and memoranda before commenting specifically on them. We can only hope, however, that the administration’s op-ed is nothing more than a mistaken communications strategy, not an indication of its substantive plans.
Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.