A few years back a friend of mine was talking about historical work he was doing that involved death records from New England in the 18th century. He said it was remarkable how many deaths were caused by things like tainted food or building collapses, fears that are incredibly remote to us today. They're remote because of regulation. People observed these preventable injuries and deaths and made a choice: to enforce requirements on behaviors which potentially endanger the lives or well-being of others. We in America eat food, take medications, enter public buildings, ride in vehicles, and undertake innumerable other activities with little or no fear because of regulation. That security and confidence represents something of a miracle, one we almost always forget or ignore.
Not everyone is so lucky. Tonight I read about a horrible tragedy in a textile factory in Bangladesh, where at least 112 workers have died from burns, smoke inhalation, heat, jumping to their deaths to escape the flames, and other horrible fates. It almost goes without saying that the building lacked emergency exits and other lifesaving requirements that can be enforced through regulation. But of course, those regulations increase the cost of doing business, and as we take it as an inalienable right to be able to buy pants for $20, regulations like that are inconvenient. Globalization simply cannot be responsibly understood without taking into account this deliberate avoidance of worker-protecting regulation. It's got a price, a price in human lives.
That we are overregulated is a truism in responsible, serious political circles. Many liberals seem desperate to push deregulation, under some sort of grand bargain scenario or simply because they have become convinced by the neoliberal notion that regulation does nothing but depress growth. Stories like this are essential to remind us of what a profound privilege it is to live in a society where there are rules that protect us everyday. Only those of us who sleep under the blanket of protection of those rules could ever underestimate their profound benefit to our lives.