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What Are Commonsense Regulations?

One man's commonsense regulation is another man's cost
One man's commonsense regulation is another man's cost
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Commonsense is a buzzword that politicians like to throw around, but one man's commonsense is another man's burden. Countries all over the world go through periods, usually during times of great economic growth, where regulation is viewed as a sin that inhibits economic growth instead of an attempt to force businesses to recognize the costs they might displace onto their workers, communities, the environment, and so on. During these times, people advocate for "commonsense regulation," but what happens is all regulation tends to be undermined while regulators grow negligent in their responsibilities. As such, we need to actually question what is meant by "commonsense regulation."

When Chile experienced an earthquake 500 times more powerful than the devastating 2010 tremor that leveled Port-Au-Prince weeks earlier, the world was forced to face the reality that the poor are more likely to die in a natural disaster than the rich, despite the magnitude of the crisis, due to poor construction and weak, unenforced regulation. As such, we must learn from the Chilean and Haitian earthquakes the importance of regulation. North America has many geographic regions similar to Chile in terms of earthquake potential, but we have also experienced a similar political dynamic in recent years. Unlike Haiti, Chile has grown accustom to major tremors, thus its building codes are, at least, as strict as the US and Japan; however, a wave of anti-regulationism may lead to many newer buildings collapsing during a future powerful quake.

Buildings are technologies composed of several little technologies. Like all technologies, their quality depends largely upon the business models behind their design, marketing, and distribution. During the 2009 Padang Earthquake, as well as the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, the most modern buildings collapsed, leaving only older structures standing. From Chile to China, good economic times have lead to deregulation and weak regulatory oversight just as it has in the United States. While a push for better regulation of the banking industry in the face of the Great Recession resulted in reforms and the Deep Horizon oil spill lead to a review of policies, the rotten fruits of weak regulation have not been realized in the US construction industry, so far.

The tendency of governments to rely on reactionary policies based on "commonsense" regulation leaves the fate of many Americans in the hands of business interests. Unfortunately, trends in business have been to focus on short-term profits without regard to the long-term needs of our civilization. This short-sighted view has lead to faulted, lower-quality products that are designed to last a very short period of time, at best. Meanwhile, the functional of products and technologies must account for environmental conditions, such as the possibility of a strong earthquake, and available resources, yet current business models push one-size-fits-all blueprints. When regulation fails to address these shortcomings of business, the cost is far greater for far more people, instead of those who profited the most.

When the economy is good, those against regulation and government influence step up their campaigns to push for deregulation. Although they supposedly target unhealthy and nonsense regulation, these activists generally show no regard for "commonsense" regulation until devastation strikes, thus the consequence of this sentiment on a national scale is deregulation and weak applications of regulations across the board. After crises like the Great Recession fueled by the cost of Wall Street’s sins and the Deep Horizon oil spill, people suddenly want massive regulation. The resulting vicious cycle of over then under regulation ultimately hurts our society while unnecessarily endangering lives. Moreover, we must learn to define what is meant by "commonsense" regulation as a society before we break this viscous cycle.