The incoming Republican government is waging a war against regulations.
“For every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated,” Donald Trump promised after the November vote. Since then, Republicans in Congress have voted to give themselves broader authority to strike down federal rules of all kinds.
The way I see the difference between liberals and conservatives is, in part, in their different approaches to our flawed body of regulations. Liberals think we should keep them and improve them. Conservatives would rather scrap many of them altogether.
Both approaches confront the same problem: No government run by humans will ever be perfect. Some regulations give us clean drinking water and safe food, whereas others may be outdated or poorly written.
And when you’re the one on the wrong side of the red tape—the small business owner hindered by regulations written for enormous corporations, or the innocent person wrongfully placed on the No Fly List—your anger and frustration are justified.
Yet regulations are, at their core, intended to protect us.
Some are designed to keep terrorists off airplanes or keep violent felons from buying guns. Others ensure that pharmaceuticals are safe and effective, and that food is free from Salmonella and E. coli. Still others keep our air and water clean.
When we get down to the details, no doubt we’ll differ over what our regulations ought to be. We can debate over what the latest science supports, and what’s in the best interest of the American people.
Each of us will have different interests of our own, too. If you put representatives of the pesticide industry, conventional and organic farmers, consumers, and doctors around a table, you’ll probably hear a wide range of views about how pesticides ought to be regulated.
But when it comes down to it, most liberal and conservative voters alike want a safe, healthy, and prosperous country for all. They just don’t agree on how to get there.
We all want to be sure that food we buy from the store is honestly labeled and safe to eat. We all want the water coming out of our taps to be safe to drink. We don’t want the environment polluted so that our kids get asthma, or more people get cancer. We want the pharmaceuticals we buy to work.
We want to be secure. We want law enforcement to be effective. We want good roads and schools. We want consumer goods we buy to be safe. We want a thriving economy. At their best, that’s what regulations give us.
Sometimes, of course, they don’t.
But is the answer to wage war on “regulations” as a whole, or to review them and improve them?
A good regulation protects American citizens in some way. A good regulation is effective and based on the latest science. A good regulation is only imposed where necessary, because the government should avoid restricting the activities of private citizens and businesses wherever possible.
Should we prune away regulations that aren’t fair or effective? Absolutely.
And we’ll have ideological differences between liberals and conservatives, as well as between different interest groups, over what constitutes a fair and effective regulation.
But there’s no need to vilify regulations altogether. When they serve a purpose protecting the American people, they’re in fact part of what makes this country great.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org.