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  • Todd (2020)

Regulations Are Everything

In my newest story, a couple of prominent characters employ art and design to communicate scientific data pertaining to looming extinctions and environmental dilemmas. One builds an Inhofe Cup, a huge sculpture (akin to the Stanley Cup) engraved with the names of prominent climate deniers – a trophy dedicated to the willfully ignorant. Another decides to highlight species’ peril by plopping existing population numbers into appropriate sport stadiums. Everyone’s familiar with sports, right?

Depicted above are the approximately 3,800 surviving tigers sitting inside the 80,000 capacity Memorial Stadium (aka Death Valley), home of the Clemson Tigers. Alas, at this distance it’s difficult to see that fewer than half the tigers are breeding females.

What do the pursuits of these new characters of mine have to do with regulations? Well, timely regulations have brought a handful of species back from the brink. The ban on DDT and an act of congress making shooting eagles illegal saved one particularly famous bird. The Endangered Species Act. Clean Water Act. The establishment and protection of National Parks & Monuments. They’ve all had a hand in saving species and ecosystems.

Of course, regulations are not simply about tigers. Or eagles. Or wolves. Or salamanders. Much of Obama’s environmental regulations were aimed at protecting humans. Climate change. Acidic seas. Choking smog. Arid farmland. Dwindling fish stocks. Frightening trends.

There was an optimistic part of me that hoped Trump would come to understood that nature bats last and it might be best to prolong the late innings. But his cabinet picks and promises appear to be aligned with the GOP’s decades old goal of gutting virtually every federal regulation pertaining to clean air, water, food, and safety.

(I just read Trump’s disparaging remarks regarding Representative Lewis, a national treasure and titan of achievement. Clearly, the aforementioned optimistic part of me needs to realize Trump and his people might be ignorant to a degree that makes them inhuman.*)

Where was I? Ah, yes… anti-regulatory fanaticism. Neo-Rebublicanism was never concerned about spending. Deficits have never been a serious issue. Look at the Reagan & Bush administrations, Kansas, Louisiana… wherever the conservative model is established, deficits soar. The plan is simple: starve governments until the regulatory & scientific community are properly emaciated.

Modern conservatism’s founder, Tom Delay, entered public life after a poison his extermination company utilized was banned as a carcinogen. That was and remains the issue, the motivation. The Tea Party, Alt. Right, KKK– whatever you want to call the modern GOP – it has one purpose: profit through deregulation.

But regulations are awesome. Regulations made this country a first world power. One might even be inclined to say they Make America Great. They protect our investments, our water, our air, our buildings, our retirement, our air travel, our roads, our cars, our first responders, our workplaces, our food, our soldiers, our pipes, our electricity, our sofas, our appliances, our wildlife, our pets, our schools, our toys.... pretty much everything that makes our lives more comfortable than the average Somali or Haitian is a regulation.

They allow us to dwell on first world problems as opposed to, say, buildings inexplicably collapsing or factories exploding.

I once renovated a house in San Francisco, perhaps the most regulated metropolis on earth. I know the hoops. Regulations are often inconvenient. They can be expensive. But like booze and shoes, you tend to get what you pay for. That extra foundation work will hold that house steady (worth noting: it’s implementation also employed a few additional people).

Sure, plenty of corporations would prefer operating without rules. Companies are like dogs. I love dogs. But I'm keenly aware that, given the opportunity, they’d eat all their food at one sitting (the whole dang bag), chew your shoes or your kids’ Legos, and poop on the one rug in the house. You know they would. And while industrialists blister at the word “regulation,” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the country’s economic engines are typically heavily regulated states. Regulations tend to lead to innovation. They demand it. Businesses might be chagrin to mention it, but they prefer locales where rules are established, consistent, and familiar. So do their employees. Without rules, things get messy. Regulations make good dogs.

A landmark study conducted a decade ago concluded that increased environmental regulation did not adversely affect jobs. In my 2020 campaign, I plan to argue that regulation, especially environmental, actually spawns jobs. Exhibit A: California. It’s job growth has recently hovered closer to 4% while the rest of the country is closer to 2%, even as the state implemented its carbon trade system and ventured into unparalleled environmental protection. In 2015, it created 30% more jobs than Texas. Exhibit B: San Francisco. The regulatory nightmare added more jobs in the last decade than over 40 states. One little city. Seven miles square. Exhibit C: Obama. The administration’s emphasis on clean energy coincided with the longest stretch of private sector job growth in U.S. history.

“But what about coal?” Trump Ubu** asks.

Coal and petroleum had a good run. They’ve been utilized as energy sources for thousands of years. The cranks of our beloved internal combustion engine received its first explosive jolt in the 17th century. They’ll still be used a century from now, but only as primitive outliers. This trend was set through careful, clairvoyant regulations stipulating cleaner vehicles and factories, but the real change is good old fashioned economics. Regulations simply leveled the playing field, allowing young technology to play on the same grass and under the same rules as old industry. Remove the artificial subsidies (steroids) from Oil & Coal and their performance fades just like an athlete nearing retirement. It’s natural. Bloomberg predicts a global petroleum death spiral as early as 2023. This is not peak oil. This is an undoing of an engine that had its day. The article concludes with this nifty sentence: when the oil crash comes, “someone will be holding the barrel.”

That’d be Trump, who plans to subsidize these most tired of industries while China invests over $300 billion in renewable energy. China has little choice. Deregulated growth has lead to unsustainable pollution conditions.

Beyond the renewable investment, more electric cars are coming. Musk made much of the Tesla open-source. He invited the competition, presumably to ensure a larger electric ecosystem.

This, I reckon, is the new Cold War. Just as we outspent the USSR, we can match and exceed China’s commitment. But I fear we won’t. Based on actual congressional bills that Trump has promised to sign, we’re going to take a few massive regulatory and investment steps backwards. If you’d care to glimpse a Republican day, look at Beijing’s sky. Or ask England’s peppered moth. (Regulations, by the way, have led to an evolutionary adaptation back to its original hue.)

It’s really a shame. Traveling 150 years backwards will leave the nation frightfully behind the rest of the world. Perhaps California – a state quite ready and willing to refuse a seat on the Republican way-back machine – might be able to charge ahead. California Uber Alles, perhaps? (There’s that optimistic part of me again, wide-eyed and confident… like Charlie Brown opening the mailbox in hopes of finding a valentine from a redheaded girl within.)

The time to act is already two decades late, but we should still give it a go.

Todd Pound 2020

Addendum: This is to be my last campaign position paper for a spell. [Audible sighs of relief] It would be awfully embarrassing to run out of positions prior to 2020. Best conserve. Also, I miss the simple pleasures of architectural criticism, music considerations, and fictional pursuits. Manifestos are hard. They require considerably more math.

Suffice to say, should I become president: I’m going to regulate the shit out of this country. Less Shit, More jobs.***

* “Inhuman” is a carefully selected adjective. I’ve tried to plot many prominent Republicans onto brain development maps. Curiously, they often fail to surpass many toddlers in terms of empathy and empirical thinking. I considered “Subhuman” but I love that band. I’m honestly not sure how to classify the utterly unreasonable.

** We've entered a real-life staging of Ubu Roi, oui? Merde.

*** Please forgive the inelegant, uncouth language. It gently references the absurdist play above. I promise not to place that motto on a bumper sticker.

Suggested Audio Accompaniment: Pere Ubu's classic "Non-Alignment Pact" and, given my affinity for clean air, their song, "Breath."

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