Friday, January 20, 2012

Reason and Common Sense

Reason and Common Sense

This quote from the philosopher Georges Santayana is usually misstated. What Santayana wrote in “Reason and Common Sense” was: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

 If you have followed the presidential primaries to date, it’s obvious that none of the Republican candidates are followers of Santayana. Thus far, the various candidates have called to:

 Impose of a 9% tax on all income and sales items,
or Reduce the federal income tax rate on income over $200,000

Abolish the Environmental Protection Agency

Eliminate various regulations on businesses

Allow young workers to drop out of the Social Security system and to use the money however they want

Stop involvement in any wars internationally and,
Reduce the US. defense to a small military force and the Anti-Ballistic Missile system

Ban the sale of birth control pills and devices and,

Prevent all abortions, even when the life of the expectant mother is in danger

End food stamps and other forms of assistance to the poor

Force children of illegal aliens to work at menial jobs or face deportation

And all candidates have stated their belief that nearly all federal government functions can be better performed in the private sector.

There are very good reasons to not do each of the above and none of the above. What’s forgotten were the reasons these agencies, programs and laws were created. Of the above, most of the Republican candidates have called for the abolishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Of those candidates, some have tried to hide the real reason for the abolition as disbelief in the science of climate change. Some others have not tried to hide the real reason to stop restrictions on their business benefactors on creating air pollution, despoiling the environment, causing earthquakes through using fracking in coal mining and dumping toxic wastes into rivers and streams. The EPA could be abolished or absorbed into another agency if big businesses would stop polluting. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen..

One of the most egregious examples of corporate pollution was General Electric’s (GE) dumping 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) into the Housatonic River from 1947 to 1977. (for a detailed explanation about PCB’s and the damage they cause, see General Electric, stalled cleaning up the pollution, finally settling with the EPA and the Department of Justice in 1998 to pay $200 million for the river cleanup. And this was not the worst that GE did - in 1983, 64 inmates in a Walla Walla Washington prison had their scrotum and testes exposed to radiation to determine its effects on reproductive organs. The inmates were not advised about the risks of cancers. (Source:

General Electric is the primary or secondary cause of 78 Superfund cleanup sites. GE designed the nuclear reactors involved in the recent Fukushima meltdowns. GE was repeatedly advised, starting in 1975, that there were safety issues in design of these plants. General Electric doesn’t always bring good things to light.

The candidates’ continuous complaint how “government regulations”, especially the new Afforfable Care Act, are burdening U.S. businesses with extensive expenses and making businesses not competitive in international business is a canard. The McClatchy Newspaper Syndicate did an extensive survey of small businesses throughout the U.S. small businesses, defined by the Small Business Administration, a constant complainer about government regulation, as 500 to 1500 employees or less, represent 65% of all employment.

McClatchy’s survey found that small businesses do not consider government regulations burdensome and onerous, lack of business (aggregate economic demand) is the primary concern. Monthly surveys by the National Federation of Independent Business show that small business concerns about regulation are lower today than they were in the 1990s when the economy was booming.

The Obama administration is the cause of less than 5% of all current federal government regulations. It is large corporations, those now allowed to spend at will on political advertising, political action groups, and other direct and indirect forms of candidate support as a result of the ill-advised Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, who are the vociferous complainers about the costs of government regulation. Large corporations are also most in need to be restrained by government regulation for the protection of us all. Perhaps these corporations could better spend this money on buying new capital equipment, hiring back laid-off employees or implementing environmental protection safeguards.

What is sorely lacking and needed in the 2012 political campaigns is a reasoned and common sense discussion about the role of federal, state and local government in the conduct of everyday life. Before every discussion, saying Santayana’s maxim should be required. Let’s not repeat, or try to undo, the past, but use what was learned to discuss and decide how to best benefit the future. Reason and common sense are what we should look for first in choosing our next President.

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