Clarence here. Remember me? I'm the angel who saved Jimmy Stewart from committing suicide by showing him what the world would be like without him.
I've come back, this time to save you.
Many of you are about to commit suicide by falling for the line that one of the factors holding down the economy is excess regulation. If only we would set corporations free to do what they do best, the economy would take off. It's these pesky regulations that are holding them back.
Behold, here is what your world would look like without regulations.
Do you see that cute baby over there, gnawing on the rail of her crib? In a few months, she will be dead from lead poisoning. Most schools and bedrooms are painted with lead paint because there was no one to stop it.
After the turn of the century and through the 1920s, there were many articles documenting the toxic effects of lead, especially on children.
In 1928, the lead industry established the Lead Industry Association specifically to combat bad publicity associated with lead toxicity, mounting campaigns like an ad depicting Santa Claus encouraging children to paint toys with leaded paint.
All through the 1930s and '40s, the industry refused to put labels on its products warning parents not to paint toys and cribs with leaded paint. In the 1950s, it took outsiders to make the case that lead paint should be banned for interior use, and the industry fought this vigorously.
In your world, the regulators won, and lead paint is no longer used. In this world, without regulators to stop them, that baby is about to die, and many others will be brain-damaged due to sub-fatal lead poisoning.
Look at that widow over there. Her husband worked in a chemical plant, making vinyl chloride, the stuff that PVC pipes, vinyl siding, and many toys are made from.
Many of the workers get cancer, but there are enough people willing to risk the exposure to get a job, so the companies do not do anything about it.
In 1970 the plastics industry first learned of animal studies in Italy suggesting that vinyl chloride caused cancer, but this was not widely known in the U.S. In 1974 the first cancer deaths among factory workers occurred.
Nevertheless, the industry continued to claim that there was no reason to suspect that vinyl chloride was a carcinogen. It continued to fight attempts to lower exposure limits, claiming that to lower exposure to the suggested levels would cost $90 billion and result in "plant closings, job losses, price increases and massive economic dislocation."
In your world, after the regulators won in 1975, the industry did the conversion for less than $300 million, and none of the dire predictions came true. But in this world, without regulators, the companies
didn't do any of that; many of their workers die young, and no one lives for miles around the factories.
Let's go for a ride in this snazzy new SUV. It is the latest model, it gets 10 miles to the gallon. The government tried to get the automakers to increase their mileage numbers, but they always responded with the same song and dance: It can't be done, it will cost thousands extra per car, people don't want this, it will be the death of the industry, it will kill jobs, etc.
Without regulation, these arguments won, and cars never improved. Don't worry about the black smoke coming out the back, all cars do that.
They said they can't prevent the smoke. No one is here to tell them they have to, so that is why you can't see to the end of the block.
Let me take you to 2050. Hot, aren't you? It's 10 degrees hotter now than you are used to. First the anti-regulators denied that the climate was changing, then they questioned the causes, then they claimed that it would be too expensive to fix. No one has forced them, so few have done anything about it.
In a truly free market, many companies would gladly poison you to gain more profit. Predictions of jobs lost if we impose regulations, or jobs gained if we remove them, hardly ever come true.
Those who want to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency are asking for a license to kill. Please don't commit suicide by letting them. Being slowly poisoned by unregulated pollutants is a bad way to gain your angel wings.
David Reingold is Foster chair of chemistry at Juniata College in Huntingdon.