Could These Corporate Failures Have Been Prevented?

In recent months, failures at BP's Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico facility injured and likely killed 11 oil rig workers and spawned an unprecedented environmental catastrophe; an explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners; and a recall of millions of Toyota vehicles occurred after an acceleration defect was linked to injuries and deaths. These events have a few things in common, not the least of which is that they all illustrate a governmental failure to effectively regulate business activity and protect the public.

In each instance, businesses with poor safety records have continued to operate in a system of voluntary regulation. Federal agencies, battered by lengthy procedural hurdles, slashed budgets, and anti-government sentiments, rely on business to police themselves. After each "accident," Congress and the media begin a crusade: how can such things happen and why didn't somebody see this coming? But after all the hand-wringing and finger-pointing, rarely is anything done to prevent future catastrophes. Instead, we continue to be stuck with "government by reaction."

Unfortunately, BP, Massey Energy, and Toyota are only the tip of the iceberg. Nearly every day, there is a story about contaminated lettuce or meat, financial misfeasance, drug recalls, or dangerous children's products. Either because of a lack of news coverage or because these crises appear isolated, the public has not been able to connect the dots. But a pattern of government inaction, coupled with a cozy relationship with regulated interests, is beginning to take its toll.

These and other incidents result from a failure of politicians to provide regulatory agencies with the resources and authority to set and enforce standards. The public may understand and support the government's role in providing public protections, but until the public begins to hold elected officials accountable for government's failure to prevent or mitigate these disasters, we can't begin to rebuild government's capacity to develop and enforce effective regulations.

Read the rest of this piece at The Huffington Post.

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