Thursday, March 15, 2007

More red tape, please 

Murray Dobbin has an interesting column on deregulation posted at Rabble.
I'm not sure whether I agree with all of it -- in particular, there is an implicit assumption that all regulations brought into effect prior to 1990 were good and useful and necessary, and therefore any dismantling of these regulations is dangerous and motivated by an unseemly desire for profits. It is, I think, possible to overdo good things, to the point they become bad things -- such as requiring so many tests for drugs aimed at rare medical conditions that the drug companies can't afford to develop these drugs.
That said, however, here's his main point:

Deregulation is one of neo-liberalism's five big initiatives (free trade, privatization, service cuts and tax cuts make up the rest). And it shows how successfully they have framed the issue.
Who in their right mind would want more red tape?
Well, for starters, pretty much anyone who flies in Canada, eats food, drives a car, uses prescription drugs or lives some place that could catch fire. That's just the short list.
And yes, that covers a fair number of us, doesn't it?
And Dobbin has an interesting discussion of the difference between the old 'precautionary principle', and the new 'risk management' model that is worth keeping in mind whenever a politician starts preaching deregulation:
The concept that drives this deregulation train is referred to as “risk management.” In the good old days of government in the public interest a different principle prevailed: the precautionary principle. That held that if there looked like there might be a problem, then you assumed in your decisions that there would be a problem. In other words, the goal used to be: err on the side of caution. Now we err on the side of profit.
Dobbin concludes with some warnings for the future -- and guess what? Why, it's our old friend, the Security and Prosperity Partnership, rearing its ugly head once again:
It can only get worse given two initiatives that are currently working at increasing the speed and breadth of deregulation.
The first is the deep integration initiative — now formally called the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America — which aims to harmonize all such inspection systems to create a “single North American economy.” The SPP, driven and guided by the powerful Canadian Council of Chief Executives, is the biggest single initiative in deregulation. According to New Democrat MP Peter Julian “We're looking at potentially 300 different areas where Canada is accepting lower American standards.” . . . The second initiative is TILMA*, the B.C.-Alberta investors' rights pact that hands over responsibility for deregulation directly to business.
The two measures, in fact, work hand in hand. Because a great deal of regulatory activity in Canada happens at the provincial and municipal level, harmonizing at the level of national governments still leaves thousands of regulations in place. There are strong suspicions that the federal government had a hand in pushing Alberta and B.C. to take the first step in bringing all the provinces (and municipalities) into a massive deregulation project that would smooth the way for deep integration.
Thanks, but no thanks. Given the alternative, I'll take the red tape.

*If you hadn't heard of TILMA before -- and neither had I - here is a link

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