Lesser of Two Evils


The argument against government regulation of commerce goes something like this. These regulations are cumbersome, confusing, expensive, inefficient, vaguely “unconstitutional,” and, ultimately, counter-productive, because they hurt the very businesses and industries they were established to protect.

The argument in favor of regulation goes something like this. Our understanding of human nature, the laws of economics, the history of mankind, and a quick glance in the mirror tells us everything we need to know. In short, that so-called “self-policing” doctrine being peddled by free market zealots is a howling fraud.

Just consider other applications of “self-policing.” What if it were applied to our roads and highways? What if motorists were told that no more traffic tickets would be issued? Or what if college and professional athletes were told there would be no more tests for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs? What if there were no more audits of our tax returns?

Even our vaunted “honor system” (where no proctors are present during test-taking) practiced at America’s military academies has been disgraced. West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy have all experienced embarrassing cheating scandals. And this moral lapse can’t be blamed on the spread of post-Vietnam rot. Way back in 1951, West Point was rocked by a cheating scandal that resulted in 90 cadets being expelled, including 37 members of Army’s celebrated football team.

It’s not a pretty picture. If the prototypical “officer and gentleman” (putatively, the finest, all-purpose human being this country is capable of producing) can’t be trusted not to cheat when the opportunity presents itself, then what can be expected of those money-grubbing, profit-driven businessmen who have one eye on the stock market, and the other eye on a vacation beach house?

One of the best examples of the need for stringent government regulation is the April 5, 2010, explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine (in Montcoal, West Virginia), which killed 29 miners. This non-union mine (unaffiliated with the United Mine Workers) was owned and operated by Massey Energy. The reason we mention its non-union status is because there is no way in hell this could have happened in a union mine.

Although the cause of the explosion was eventually traced back to unsafe, substandard mine conditions (the accumulation of flammable gas, among other things), federal investigators found evidence of something far more disturbing.

In order to thwart possible interference of government safety officials, Massey Energy was keeping two sets of books. One set contained all the beautiful, by-the-numbers stuff any federal safety official would rejoice in seeing during a routine mine inspection, and the other contained the actual, untampered-with data (which, in Massey’s case, was incriminating).

Even though Massey was found guilty of a felony and its CEO could still face jail time, give them credit for something you don’t see done much anymore this side of the Third World or Wall Street. While it’s common for companies to put a positive spin on their safety records, it’s a whole other deal when they resort to the naked criminality displayed here. This was more than self-aggrandizement; this was a Mafia-style play.

Yet, when I use Massey as an argument in favor of government regulations, these free market mavens strongly disagree. While lamenting the loss of 29 lives, and condemning what Massey executives did, they gleefully point out that it was done in spite of voluminous government regulations already on the books, proving that government regulations aren’t the answer.

With all due respect, boys, that’s one shitty argument. Massey refutes the “self-policing” doctrine. The issue isn’t that government regs failed to prevent an explosion; the issue is the lengths to which people will go to make money. If Massey did what they did even with regulations on the books, even with federal safety officials breathing down their necks, just think what they would do if they were “self-policing.”

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor” 2nd edition), was a former union rep.  Dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving