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Stephen Gottlieb: Regulation and the Slide to Hell

There’s too much regulation, says Romney. Too much regulation, say some businesses. It’s always categorical, not about which regulation. Just that regulation is bad. Stop it.

The forests are burning. The drought continues. The deserts are growing. The earth is warming. The diseases are spreading. The storms are destroying our towns and farms. The glaciers are melting and the oceans are retaking our shores, submerging islands, making refugees and warriors. But oh block the regulation.

This land is my land; this land is your land from Katrina’s Gulf Stream waters to Irene’s northern mountains, from parched Georgia farmlands, to dying ski resorts, and down the Mississippi from flood stage to sandbars and low water. But some want freedom from regulation.

Tell us what regulation you don’t like? The ones that protect the water we drink? What do you want to feed us through our taps? It’s a free country and you should be free to make whatever you want wherever you want to. It’s a free country and we are free to drink your water and pay the medical bills and funeral costs and you are free of all those expenses, you have the freedom to make the rest of us pay the cost of your business, but you have the freedom, perhaps the gall, to complain about paying for our lives.

It’s a free country and you want freedom to continue to produce the fuels that burn our world, to frack and drill, to build cars that pollute, factories and power plants that pollute. Power companies fight in court for the right, for some call it that, to send their acid rain east to New York, New England and Canada. That is your right in a free country, to do what you will and force the rest of us to pay the bills, though you will not pick up the bills for those you injure because it is your right to hurt.

You find each other in the arms of the political party that touts its morality, though the morality of your actions is hard for some of us to discern. There is also a morality in taking care of each other, watching out for each other, doing what we can to make each other’s lives happier and healthier. But you don’t see that morality, only the right you have to create the problems that the rest of us struggle to solve.

Who should we honor? Those whose wealth comes from the illness and poverty of others, or those whose efforts are to make this a healthier, more livable world?

Once there were conservatives who bemoaned the moral corruption of unregulated capitalism. Now there are conservatives who bemoan the very consideration of morality by those who would regulate capitalism. Once we gloried and proclaimed to the world the benefits of regulated banking. Now when we have seen the damage unregulated banking does we shout about our right to do whatever we want, and heaven help the hindmost.

John Dunne wrote “No man is an island” and President Obama is pilloried when he says it too. Where is the morality in helping the world in its slide to hell? Tell me, I must need to be educated.

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.