The Hoax of Deregulation

Once again, Vice President George Bush is led by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to perpetrate a cruel hoax on the American people. He announces to a crowd of reporters how the administration is saving the public and businesses billions of dollars by scrapping or weakening health and safety standards. Pliant George makes no mention of the dollar and human costs of more disease, more injuries and more fatalities that proceed from an unrestrained industrial age.

The next day, headlines around the country proclaim the alleged savings which this Reaganite flimflam trumpets. Another victory against the dreaded regulations is chalked up by the smiling Republicans.

Meanwhile, back on the highways and in the homes and factories of America, men, women and children are maimed or sickened by dangerously built products, chemical pollution of their bodies and hazardous workplaces. Somehow, their cries of anguish and their lifetime disability, if they survive, do not seem to concern the vice president. His concern is to become a Republican president and that means responding to the demands of the corporations which want no law and order applied to their misdeeds.

To Reagan’s government, it’s all a numbers game that ignores all tragic consequences. How many new rulemakings they cut, how many fewer pages there are in the Federal Register, how many established safety standards they repeal–those are the regime’s passions. Periodically, OMB asks the Exxons, the Pfizers, the General Motors and the U.S. Steels for their wish lists and the turnstile of indentured politicians revolves again.

The intellectual dishonesty of this process does not seem to affect Mr. Bush. But for Christopher DeMuth, his executive director of the Task Force for Regulatory Relief, the practice should be a shame. DeMuth formerly taught at Harvard and prides himself on being a scholar of regulatory matters. At present, the tools of his trade mock scholarship.

Consider the DeMuth-Bush formula for deregulation. First, take the corporations’ self-serving cost figures, then ignore the economic, health and safety benefits and, voila, conclude that the proposed or existing standard is not cost-beneficial. Do this with other standards and together total up the sums of savings.

Applied to meat and poultry inspection, this formula gives you dirtier or more diseased food products as fewer inspectors can remain on the job to conduct fewer inspections of meat and poultry plants.

Applied to energy, this formula means companies can sell you more energy-wasteful products from appliances to cars without having to meet efficiency standards.

Applied to drugs, this formula can allow inadequately tested pharmaceuticals to plague patients.

Applied to nursing homes, this formula can condone awful conditions for large numbers of elderly Americans.

Yet it is just this formula that is being applied or proposed for these consumer situations.

One can search through the hundreds of pages of OMB documents without reading anything about any needs for health and safety protection. DeMuth and Bush react to industry to score their points; they have no interest in being pro-active for consumer rights. Nonetheless, as the media reports, the torrent of toxic chemicals, defective products and corporate fraud continues unabated. And big and little commercial cartels, approved by Reagan’s departments, go unchallenged by tinsel free-enterprisers in the White House.

The regulatory-relief mania in OMB is so bogus that it has become the butt of in-house jokes. Bush’s August 1982 achievement report had to be corrected in mid-printing. It seems the figure on rules reduction, taken from a Reagan speech, was erroneous. “They don’t even know what is and what is not a regulation,” said one staffer.

Still, the DeMuth-Bush charade goes on. They saved the auto industry many dollars, they say, by repealing the bumper, crash protection and tire-pressure warning standards. Never mind the increased damage to cars and motorists–they don’t contribute to campaigns or lobby daily in high Washington places anyhow.

The Washington press needs to bear down more incisively the next time the Bush show goes on stage. Otherwise, mimeograph machines can do their job that day.

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