Ask any conservative if we need stricter laws with increased enforcement and the answer will be an emphatic, “YES!” Ask the same person if we need stricter regulations on industry with increased enforcement and you will receive an equally enthusiastic, “NO!”
Consider the logic here. It is obvious to conservatives that humans will behave badly in society without legal consequences. Harsher laws and increased law enforcement are never mentioned in the same sentence as complaints about big government and decreased freedoms for American citizens.
Regulations on business and industry, however, are viewed through a completely different lens. Although businesses and industry are managed by people, conservatives somehow feel that, with no legal consequences at all, these people will behave with integrity. To guard against criminal behavior people require the vigorous enforcement of punishments… except when they are running businesses. People prone to criminal behavior in society will naturally behave honorably in business, therefore, industry regulations restrict freedoms and industry oversight represents government overreach.
One argument for this bizarre position is that the free market is “self-correcting.” People won’t buy dangerous or inferior products and people won’t buy products from dishonest companies that pollute the environment, so businesses will behave ethically to prevent this rejection from consumers. In truth, we know that people DO buy dangerous and inferior products from dishonest industries that pollute the environment and the ONLY way the free market can function is when there are checks and balances to prevent monopolies. The board game Monopoly is a perfect representation of an unregulated economy. Anyone who has played the game knows that it ends the same every time. One player has everything and everyone else has nothing.
If the free market actually had an impact on the moral behaviors people in business, the same should apply to the moral behaviors of people in general. The mechanism by which the free market is supposed to keep businesses behaving well is rejection. In theory, society will reject businesses that behave poorly, thus making these businesses less successful which results in businesses always behaving morally. Apply this same theory to the individual by replacing the word “businesses” with the word “people.” Society will reject people who behave poorly, making these people less successful which results in people always behaving morally. If the free market argument actually worked we would need neither regulations nor criminal laws. Of course, it doesn’t work and we need both.
The over-the-counter medication industry is heavily regulated. If I buy a bottle of 250mg ibuprofen, I can be assured that every pill will contain 250mg of ibuprofen. The supplement industry is unregulated. If I buy a bottle of 100 mg vitamin C, it is legally possible that the pills could contain no vitamin C at all! Recent research has shown that the free market has not self-corrected and MOST of the supplements on the shelves do not contain what they claim to contain.
According to conservative logic, if a neighbor intentionally pours strychnine into my well, he should face criminal charges. But, if a factory intentionally pours strychnine into a thousand wells there should be no consequences!? I agree with conservatives that industry should not be regulated. Industry should be policed! Every regulation should be eliminated and reconstructed as a criminal law. Every government agency tasked with ensuring industry compliance with regulations should be eliminated and remodeled as a branch of law enforcement.
Rusty Harrison is a Professor of Psychology at Western Piedmont Community College and Co-Vice President of the Morganton Humanist Alliance.