Regulations? Who needs ’em?

I was trying to enjoy the pizza that had come out of our oven five minutes ago.  Topped with yesterday’s crumbled turkey burger and some fresh spinach that I haven’t quite mastered cooking, it looked yummy.  Sweetie was enjoying her usual root beer and I was having my second glass of red wine.  All in all it promised to be a pleasant evening.  Until I clicked to our local PBS station.

Confronted with smoke and fire, we were in the midst of a documentary that chronicled the Triangle Shirtwaist Company disaster.  On March 25, 1911 the fire that consumed nearly 150 people became the fourth largest industrial taker of life in our history.  Mostly girls and women, the youngest to die was 14.  The oldest 48.  Nearly all were recent immigrants.

You’ve probably read about the awful circumstances that caused their deaths.  A stairway door that was locked to prevent thefts by the workers.  Non-existent alarms.  A flimsy, broken fire escape that collapsed from the weight and tossed victims a hundred feet to their death.  The fire department arrived but their ladders were thirty feet short of reaching the fire.  Louis Waldman, later to become a state assemblyman, gave this account…

Word had spread through the East Side, by some magic of terror, that the plant of the Triangle Waist Company was on fire and that several hundred workers were trapped. Horrified and helpless, the crowds — I among them — looked up at the burning building, saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp. This went on for what seemed a ghastly eternity. Occasionally a girl who had hesitated too long was licked by pursuing flames and, screaming with clothing and hair ablaze, plunged like a living torch to the street. Life nets held by the firemen were torn by the impact of the falling bodies.  The emotions of the crowd were indescribable. Women were hysterical, scores fainted; men wept as, in paroxysms of frenzy, they hurled themselves against the police lines.

The company owners who escaped the fire were indicted for manslaughter but, because there was no proof that they knew the doors were locked, were found not guilty.  A subsequent civil suit against them exacted a $75 penalty per victim. By 1915 the state of New York, having identified 200 other companies with conditions conducive to a similar disaster, had developed commissions, laws and regulations to address the situation.

Fast forward to 2011.  It has become clear to all but those who live in a fantasy world that the overriding Republican mantra is the downsizing of government.  Starving the beast through lower taxes on the wealthy, debt limit obstinacy and refusing to fund government for more than a month at a time are the tools of this diminution.  Waving the flag of deficit reduction, spending excesses are to be eliminated even if suffering is the result.  Commissions are to be abolished.  The myth of global warming lends ammunition to the destruction of the EPA.  Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve are leading us to financial perdition.  Businesses will only hire people if they are freed from the regulatory yoke of government.

Yes, we’ve all met a regulation we didn’t like.  The intrusion of government in our lives is unforgivable.  Inspectors and bureaucrats lurk around every corner.  Gotta go to Mexico to get that drug the FDA won’t approve.  Have to take my shoes off at the airport.  FTC truth in advertising laws that interfere with the free market.  The SEC sticking its nose in my business.  Minimum wages, equal opportunity, job safety and privacy laws that make us inefficient and less competitive.  Can’t even build a fire hazard on my own property.

As Mitch McConnell put it while referring to the large number of government employees in Washington…“We’re a boomtown,” he said, adding he’d like “fire the bureaucrats” so that the private sector can have a chance to lift the economy out of its slump.

Those Triangle Shirtwaist girls were sure lucky to be living in a free country.

5 Responses to “Regulations? Who needs ’em?”

  1. 1 Sally October 5, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Right on Fred! Let’s not forget Michele Bachmann’s recent lament — that there’s too much regulation in the food industry.

    Tell that to the 18 people who died after eating listeria-tainted cantaloupe.


  2. 2 Myrna Cambianica October 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    there are regulations and then there are regulations! never-the-less, we need those laws that safeguard our public and our environment … can one even imagine free wheeling for corporations … hah, bah humbug, as they will not regulate themselves with concern as “profit” for themselves and shareholders will always rear its ugly head

    thanks fred … right on!


  3. 3 Andrew October 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Not so fast. There are degrees of regulations. No doubt basic protections and worker safety must be in place, however when the lobby machine creates unecessary regulations based on profit and greed we have a major, over regulated mess on our hands. In many areas of buisness , industry and construction, regulations are simply out of control. As an example — when we had the pleasure to build the Rothenberg’s house storm water pollution control was basic and effective and cost a couple of thousand dollars. The same project would now be burdened with a 750 page manual and cost $80,000 to $100,000 to implement. This is being done in the name of the environment, however in reality it is the trickle down of a system run amuck and controlled by the new American Samuri — attorneys and insurance companies.


  4. 4 Jon Lambert October 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    If we could only believe that large corporations have a ethos that took into account the universal needs of human beings (which includes the ‘workers’ that produce that which they are selling) so many of today’s regulations would never have come into being. The prevailing corporate attitude appears to be: do unto others as as you please, until you get caught… the mantra of the Idnustrial Revolution.


  5. 5 Susannah Kramer October 6, 2011 at 11:13 am

    My husband had two aunts die in that fire, one, a seventeen year old, had only been in this country for two weeks. She came looking for a better life.


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