Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Preventing illness and environmental catastrophes instead of paying afterward, if ever.

First they play footsie with Saddam, then those Eurosocialist-surrender monkeys attack capitalism-as-we-know-it.

Here is yet another excellent article by Sam Lowenberg in the American Prospect about the European precautionary principle, "a doctrine enshrined in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty among European Union members, governments should protect their populations against risk, even before all the data are compiled," and how they're whipping American companies into shape. I've written about this before, but in a nutshell, those pinko Europeans are
Crafting legislation that by 2005 will require the industry to conduct extensive safety tests on 30,000 common chemicals. At least 1,500 are expected to be banned or severely restricted in their use as a result. The industry estimates that the testing alone will cost it more than $7.5 billion
The most interesting parts of the article are the descriptions of U.S. companies' futile attempts to use the same tactics that succeed here to kill the European regulations. Their problem begins with the whole precautionary principle:
The doctrine is a prescription for government intervention before harm occurs. By contrast, Washington generally doesn't pass broad regulatory overhauls unless there's concrete evidence of harm. U.S. laws that put new burdens on industry -- such as the Superfund or the recent accounting reform -- tend to be attempts to clean up disasters.
The Euros claim that prevention actually saves money:
Proponents claim that the chemical-testing legislation will save companies money in the long run. Dr. Michael Warhurst, who works on the issue for the World Wildlife Fund, argues that the tests will keep especially dangerous chemicals off the market and thus preempt many large lawsuits. He points out that product liability lawsuits cost U.S. industry about $180 billion a year, or 1.9 percent of the gross domestic product
Of course, American companies have another way to avoid spending money on product liability lawsuits: It's called "Tort Reform".

Another quaint cultural difference: The Europeans don't shy away from the fact that the regulations will be costly -- 14 billion and 26 billion euros by the year 2020.
But, by the Europeans' count, this is a small price to pay for the benefits gained. The European Commission estimates that the strengthened regulation of chemicals will result in a drop of 2,200 to 4,300 cancer cases per year, with a savings over 30 years of 18 billion to 54 billion euros in occupational health costs alone.
In America, on the other hand, we avoid such costly regulations by something called "cost-benefit analysis" where we only count the costs and not the benefits.
Clearly they have all of their priorities mixed up:
Last year, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Rockwell Schnabel, complained in a Wall Street Journal Europe op-ed that European regulators did not take enough business input into their decisions and that they were concentrating too much on environment and health at the expense of growth and trade.
Let me repeat that for those of you who spaced out for a minute: European regulators did not take enough business input into their decisions and that they were concentrating too much on environment and health at the expense of growth and trade.

OK. So what cultural psychopathology underlies this clearly deviant behavior?
The current conflict between corporate America and the European Union cannot be fully understood unless one considers that the bribery and corruption that have long plagued European politics are dwarfed by what is legal and accepted in Washington. In the United States, lobbyists can kill legislation at almost any point in its progress. They can keep it from ever being heard in committee and they can cut its funding after it's been passed. Whether the issue is tobacco, health insurance or nuclear power, corporate lobbying tactics in Washington are standard: Give tens of thousands of dollars to candidates, hire former officials who used to regulate the industry, and utilize mass mailings and front groups to produce an appearance of grass-roots support, known in the business as "Astroturf."
Read the article. It's important information that only rarely makes it into the mainstream press. And it gives us over here something to shoot for -- changing the mindset of the American public and the politicians that supposedly represent them, but who actually live in terror of being accused of "concentrating too much on environment and health at the expense of growth and trade."

P.S. You know what pisses me off? (Yeah, I know, everything.) In this country, the slightest whiff of regulation elicits immediate cries of "bankruptcy," "bad business climate," "suffering small businesses," etc. But you know what? When Europe finally issues all of these regs, the U.S. companies will happily participate and whine all the way to the bank.

Why? Because as Lowenberg points out, "they want to do business in Europe's 340-million-person market -- or in its half-billion-person market next year, when the European Union is slated to add 10 new member countries. "

On the other hand, these activities give me a bit of hope that conditions in the U.S. don't really have to be this crazy for all eternity. Even if it's a somewhat difficult these days to change things on this side of the Atlantic, it's at least good to know that an alternative reality exists on this earth and not just in our imaginations. (Oh give me a break, you idealistic twirp!) Blech! I gotta go....