Column, 564 words

A War on Regulations

Are we going to let interest group politics undermine public safety?

Jill Richardson

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 Some regulations give us clean drinking water and safe food, whereas others may be outdated or poorly written.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.


Roland Tanglao / Flickr

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


  • DFinMOzarks

    We see the GOP continually trying to gut regulations put in place by a mixture of both parties after the country has been subjected to a catastrophe.

    Examples that come quickly to mind were banking regulations put in place to deregulate the S&L industry during the 80’s. Reagans ink wasn’t even dry on the bill when folks like Neil Bush began looting them. The result? Taxpayers got stuck with the bill of $150 billion and only a few went to jail.

    During the Great Depression to keep big speculative investment banks and mortgage banks separated a bill called Glass/Stegall passed. The reasons it was needed were obvious and the effects of the laws successful over 6 decades. Why repeal them as the GOP succeeding in doing? Big profits. The very predictable outcome; crooked appraisals, crooked finically statements not investigated, a major housing collapse and nearly a total world economic collapse. The results’ new rules put in place …and the GOP attempting to gut those rules already. No major players from Wall St. in this multi-trillion dollar scheme went to jail. Hell, none of them were even investigated.

    When will our people wake up and realize that the goals of the rich are almost always in conflict with the health, safety and security of the other 99% of us..