Regulations? We don’t need no stinkin’ regulations.
The mantra from some political quarters is that government regulations are strangling the economy by placing unfair restraints on American corporations.
Why, if the government would just mosey on out of the way, many Republican candidates said during the midterm political campaigns, the U.S. economy would shoot into the stratosphere and we’d all be singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
The arguments – that we should allow oil companies to drill anywhere, who needs trees, what use is a spotted owl? – are not completely partisan, although Republicans this midterm used the word to bludgeon President Obama. The arguments for deregulation, though, are made by Republicans and Democrats who think that there are votes and campaign donations to be made by championing the cause of beleaguered corporations that are being hamstrung by government regulations.
If you believe that, I’ve got a used car seat I’d like to sell you – really cheap. Some entities – ironically, mainly politicians, get a lot of mileage out of portraying the federal government as the bad guys, despite daily evidence that big corporations are not the benevolent Big Brothers their supporters present them as being.
I’m guessing that news that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration – one of those durned gubmint agencies some love to hate – is investigating Graco for a delay in reporting problems with the buckles on some of its car seats has gladdened the hearts of parents all over the country. Even Republican parents.
The buckles, NHTSA and a Graco spokesman said, could become stuck and make it difficult to free a child in an emergency.
OK, how long of a delay was it – a week, perhaps two, after discovering the problem before the company reported it?
Five years – and then only after what a NHTSA spokeswoman wrote was “continued pressure” from the government agency.
A spokeswoman for NHTSA didn’t return a call Friday afternoon, but in a press release on its website, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “Any delays by a manufacturer in meeting their obligations to report safety issues with the urgency they deserve, especially those that impact the well-being of our children, erodes that trust and is absolutely unacceptable.”
Graco reacted with alacrity, compared to General Motors. The government determined that GM knew about potentially deadly problems with its ignition switches in some cars for 10 years before reporting the problem. The ignition switch could turn off of its own volition, shutting off the car and airbags.
“Crashes happened and people died,” Foxx said last spring. “Had GM acted differently, perhaps some of this tragedy might have been averted.”
At least 13 deaths have been attributed to the problem with the switch.
There may indeed be times when government interference can throttle the engines of profits – imagine what GM’s bottom line would’ve looked like if it hadn’t had to pay that $35 million fine? – and there are probably places where bureaucracy impedes unnecesarily a company’s ability to deliver or provide services and goods at a reasonable rate.
I’ll tell you what, though: There are at least an equal number of times that corporations have shown that profit – not our safety – is paramount.
For instance, estimates of GM’s cost to fix the ignition switch problem ranged from 57 cents to $1 per car. Not a lot of money, but more than doing nothing. The company still had to pay for a massive recall to fix the problem – and was forced to pay a $35 million fine for its delay in reporting the problem.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave, eh?