I am unapologetic for expending so many pixels on the admittedly tedious topic of taxation, but in doing so I am afraid that I may have given short shrift to the other hobgoblin of conservative politics: regulation. It might be fair to say that right-wing apparatchiks from the EFF and BIAW are even more anti-regulatory than they are anti-tax.
And so I would like to call your attention to a news item that illustrates both the need for regulation, and the fine work of individual regulators. Evergreen International, one of the world’s largest shipping lines, has pleaded guilty to more than two dozen criminal counts of illegally dumping oil, altering records and obstructing Coast Guard investigations, and has been fined $25 million. The plot was uncovered by the keen eye of a regulator from the Washington Department of Ecology.
Amid the crazy-quilt tangle of pipes and machinery in the cargo ship’s engine room, the inspector’s attention was drawn to two bolts — two bolts among hundreds.
The paint was missing.
That sharp-eyed scrutiny by a Washington Department of Ecology inspector triggered a chain of events that culminated yesterday in one of the largest fines ever imposed on a company that deliberately polluted the ocean.
The investigation followed a 500 gallon oil spill in the Columbia River; a nationwide inquiry revealed falsified logbooks, and a three year, company-wide practice of illegally discharging waste oil into local and international waters. And it would still be going on today, if not for the work of WA Dept. of Ecology inspector Dodge Kenyon.
That’s right, this was the work of a state government employee, regulating private industry. You know… the kind of employee right-wingers usually denounce as a bloated leach, and the kind of regulations commonly railed against as an unreasonable economic hardship. (This was also a fine example of your tax dollars at work.)
There is a world view perpetrated by some on the right, where captains of industry should always be trusted and honored, while our elected officials should not… where regulatory agencies spring fully formed from the cunning minds of labor unions, eager to create cushy, make-work jobs for their members, while simultaneously harassing businesses owners and screwing the taxpayers, if only for sport.
But this libertarian fantasy is just that. In the real world, the competitive pressures of the market place often tempt businesses to choose profit or convenience over ethics, with such transgressions quickly becoming industry practice as competitors struggle to adapt or die. An unregulated market is thus a surefire path towards the tragedy of the commons.
And so when right-wingers decry overbearing regulations and wasteful public employees, as if all regulatory agencies are overbearing and wasteful, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a free market, and that the costs of maintaining our regulations are often far less than the costs of the chaos that would occur without them. It is fashionable to balk at the expense of the kind of modern government our modern economy demands, but this neo-con chic purposely ignores the myriad of government regulations and workers who invisibly labor to keep our waters clean, our food safe, and our homes, offices and bridges from falling down around us… not to mention the many other public services on which our economy and civil society depend.
$12 billion a year is a lot of money, and surely the state could raise it fairer and spend it wiser. But the anti-tax/anti-regulatory forces are not proponents of incremental change; their goal is to starve the beast, as Grover Nordquist says, to the point were government is small enough to “drown it in a bathtub.”
One of the fundamental differences between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats like me genuinely believe in government. And when I see public employees like Dodge Kenyon preventing a multinational corporation from clogging the Columbia River with oily sludge, my faith in government is rewarded.