Saturday, November 12, 2011

Those tired arguments for deregulation

Today, right-wing corporate quislings who hold elected office just love to rail against government regulation. Here's Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C.:
Each layer of the American dream is being infected by government regulations.
It is true that some government regulations are way too heavy. (That may be because lobbyists make them complex by getting exemptions for their industries.) It is also true that some government regulations -- like the ones governing banks -- are way too light. But isn't it time to abandon these tired old attacks claiming that all government regulation is bad? 

Rick Bookstaber shows how we're hearing the same arguments today that we heard more than 150 years ago to oppose regulation -- in this case, of child labor in England. They will sound all too familiar to modern American ears:
First, that abolishing child labor would harm those who promoted job creation and productivity. Manufacturers opposed the child labor laws as an unjust interference with their business, an unnecessary and burdensome obstacle to their success, and a threat of ruin to the class who provided employment to so many laborers and created the productive engine that was the source of commerce for the country.
Second, that if child labor were restricted England would be placed at a competitive disadvantage. This would not only affect the capitalist class, but affect the size of the pie to be distributed, and thus ultimately trickle down to affect the working class itself.
Third, that at a more fundamental level government regulation should be broadly cast aside because it was detrimental to competition and essential freedoms: freedom of labor, freedom of capital, and freedom of contract. If the employer and the employee were both satisfied with the conditions of their labor, why should the government interfere?
Sound familiar? Now, let's look at a report by a Royal Commission in 1842 on the conditions of children in the mines:
Children began their life in the coal mines at five, six, or seven years of age. Girls and women worked like boys and men, they were less than half clothed, and worked alongside of men who were stark naked. There were from twelve to fourteen working hours in the twenty-four, and these were often at night. Little girls of six or eight years of age made ten to twelve trips a day up steep ladders to the surface, carrying half a hundred weight of coal in wooden buckets on their backs at each journey. Young women appeared before the commissioners, when summoned from their work, dressed merely in a pair of trousers, dripping wet from the water of the mine, and already weary with the labor of a day scarcely more than begun. A common form of labor consisted of drawing on hands and knees over the inequalities of a passageway not more than two feet or twenty-eight inches high a car or tub filled with three or four hundred weight of coal, attached by a chain and hook to a leather band around the waist.
There it is: A "dream" uninfected by government regulation.