Yet another dumb, uneducated, religious fundamentalist, anti-science, neoconservative, gun-toting Texan has emerged from that backward state to eye off the White House where he could apply his talents on a wider stage. Rick Perry – shudder.
Not much point in dissecting this good old boy who is aiming to outdo Bachmann in the craziness stakes, the few remaining Americans capable of rational thought are doing that, but I want to pick up on one aspect of his political beliefs out of the many he shares with our own wild-eyed cowboy Tony Abbott. Perry wants to get rid of all regulation.
This of course is the fundamentalist faith of neocon libertarian true market believers, and Rick would be right at home, Right at home, with our very own bunch of market, market and nothing but the market true believers in the IPA. Perhaps they could offer him a visiting fellowship if that running for president thing doesn’t work out.
But the whole thing is as puzzling as the beliefs of Catholics or the southern evangelicals of Texas (evolution? Nah). I have as much difficulty with it as I do with the appearance of virgin mary on toasted cheese, or christ on a creeper (you don’t want to know). But I’ll give it a go.
Normal people believe that it is best to regulate airlines to stop planes crashing, pharmaceuticals to stop side effects, food preparation to stop food poisoning, factories to prevent rivers being poisoned, and guns to stop people being shot.
The Rick Perrys of this world (?) believe nothing of the sort. They start from the premise that regulation costs a business money, either directly or through opportunity cost, and that as a result really rich people will get richer a bit more slowly. Because they are either very rich themselves or best buddies with those who are, they think this is a BAD THING.
But because you can’t admit this is all just about greed they erect a philosophy around it. The idea seems to be that if there are two airlines and one takes advantage of lack of regulation to skimp on maintenance and training and the other doesn’t then the planes of the first one will crash, people won’t want to fly with them and they will go broke. Triumph of the market, no need for that silly old regulation, so twentieth century.
Except, and I think you will have spotted this for yourselves, for one tiny little flaw, nothing at all really. The theory relies on quite a few people who used airline A, well, dying, suffering in fact an opportunity cost of the potential life they could have had if strict regulation had stopped any crashes.
Oh, yes, that’s an extreme test of market force theory, but not an unfair one. Don’t regulate food preparation standards and wait for enough people to get sick, the word to get around, and a restaurant loses business, goes out of business if it doesn’t mend its ways, wash its hands. Don’t regulate speed limits on roads and, after a certain number of crashes the speeds will average out at a safe level (yes indeed suggested by an Australian libertarian).
Poorly built houses collapsing in storm, children’s toys with lead paint, untested drugs in pharmacies, sweat shops in every suburb, all media owned by Rupert Murdoch? Not to worry, when the public knows about these things the market will swing into action. Oh, sure, casualties along the way – injury, disease, death – price you pay for perfect freedom. What’s that? Well, yes, the freedom of the corporations, obviously, what are you a socialist?
But as if the idea that testing the market involves, if it must, injury and death, to maintain the purity of vision of the Libertarian gurus like Hayek and Paul (his son, almost unbelievably, named after Ayn Rand), was not bad enough, it also depends on another contradiction. If an unregulated media becomes owned by just one or two powerful owners, each with their own corporate interests in other segments of the economy, and each depending on advertising from the airlines, builders, drug companies, children’s toy makers and such like, then the chances of those media outlets exposing shonky or dangerous goods to the public so the “market” can decide is, oh, let me guess, approximately 0%. And just in case a rogue reporter does manage to survive somewhere in the bowels of a giant media conglomerate, the corporations, as we have seen recently, have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves in the form of astroturf organisations and legal injunctions and donations to political parties to prevent truth ever getting out.
Have I missed something? Yes indeed. The consequences of deregulation on individuals and their inability, in a real world outside the pages of Randian fantasy novels, to do anything about it, is obvious enough. Still, I suppose you could argue that an individual may, eventually, become informed about stuff by word of mouth and observation. But there is a whole other category of failure, bad enough even in a semi-regulated world, that has no remedy. Damage to the environment is always an externality – the tragedy of the commons is that everybody dumps rubbish in it and someone else has to pay to clean it up. At least where there are attempts at regulation, however feeble, companies might decide it is less costly, if penalties are high enough, to clean up their act than to poison water and air and soil. With no regulation there is no “consumer” to discourage environmentally damaging behaviour, and a company that did, altruistically, decide to put filters on chimneys or outlet pipes would incur costs not incurred by its competitors. Only a massive public campaign which managed to effectively aim at boycotting a company’s products might be effective, and it would be met by astroturf crazies, union thugs, legal jackals, and media disinformation campaigns.
But the faith of the true believers like Perry and Abbott is unshaken by any analysis – just as in religion the less evidence the more faith, and no evidence at all requires the greatest faith and the surest path to paradise. Those calling for theocracies in what were once western democracies are doing so from the safety of hard-won secular societies. In the same way those calling for an end to all regulation are doing so from an economy and society which still, in spite of the best efforts of the neocons, is based at least nominally on the idea that some regulation is needed to save capitalism from itself. In both cases I have the feeling that the religious and economic fundamentalists should be careful what they wish for – they wouldn’t, in the real world, like what they got.