Thursday, January 26, 2012

On Dickens Redux


You’re calling me out on my rhetorical Dickensian flourish is fair. But is it not also fair to worry that  ….”the notion that anyone is proposing an elimination of air pollution laws that would result in a Dickensian-like, coal-fired, haze over the US, and that the electorate would stand for such a thing is, frankly, absurd” is a bit optimistic?
 After all, the current front runner for the Republican nomination for the presidency has publicly called for the elimination of the EPA. Should I not take Mr. Gingrich at his word, not to mention the analogous sentiments uttered  by the constituency he represents? Or the governor of the 3th largest state in the Union, whose contempt for environmental regulation produces the US city with the worst air pollution in the country?
What I find so unsettling about current Republican politics is that the moderate wing (comprised largely of the wealthy and more highly educated elite) seems to still think that they can control events, that in their end, their guy, Romney, will get in and that he’ll govern like a moderate despite his endlessly flexible campaign rhetoric. But each passing day on the campaign trail undercuts that notion. The people who now comprise the core of the Republican party, working class whites, are enraged, enraged that their way of life is eroding, their values challenged on all fronts, and their dominant place in the culture is withering away. I find their vision no less apocalyptic than the mullahs in Tehran.

While I agree substantially with the argument that growth raises the overall economic status of everyone, and I don’t mind that it does so unequally, I suspect it’s more complicated than that. Somewhat annoyingly, I raise the specter of Dickens again as an extreme but instructive example of where unregulated capitalism can lead. Do we believe that those experiencing the full rapacious fury of the Industrial Revolution were better off? Aren’t those the conditions that laid the groundwork for Marxism, a misguided anti-human political philosophy that led to the deaths of more than 50 million people before it finally was discredited? Aren’t we seeing an echo of that displacement in the Occupy movement? Of course we don’t have conditionws like that in America anymore. But we did not so long ago. You argue that the miraculously rising American tide has lifted boats both large and small. Fair enough. I argue that government has played  an irreducible, critical role in guaranteeing economic and environmental protections for all, even those who insist they don’t want them.
 Still, I am also increasingly appreciating that regulation is a double edge sword, with potential to produce harm as well as good

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