Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thoughts of a Liberal

It seems that military people, especially those of us that made a career of the military, are more conservative politically than the average person in the country. Once upon a time, long, long ago I was typical of that way of thinking. But for military people to complain about excessive regulation in the private sector is certainly confusing. There is no organization that has more rules and regulations than the military.

But the more I observed, the more I saw businesses with large advertising budgets sell shoddy and defective products and try and get away with it by acting all innocent. “What ? Us? We didn’t know.” One product that took a long time to get off the market was the Dalkon Shield.

From Wikipedia, “In 1970 the A.H. Robins Company acquired the Dalkon Shield from the Dalkon Corporation, founded by Hugh Davis, M.D. The Dalkon Corporation had only four shareholders: the inventors, Hugh J. Davis, M.D. and Irwin Lerner, their attorney, Robert Cohn, and a practitioner in Defiance, Ohio, Thad J. Earl, M.D. In 1971, Dalkon Shields went to the market, beginning in the United States and Puerto Rico, spearheaded by a large marketing campaign. At its peak, about 2.8 million women used the Dalkon Shield in the U.S. The aggressive marketing and defense of the Dalkon Shield intrauterine device-- despite the manufacturer's knowledge of safety problems --resulted in a huge scandal.”

A lot of women users of the Dalkon Shield died from using it. A lot more women suffered septic spontaneous abortions. Some children were born deformed. And the manufacturer knew of the problem, and it was easily corrected, before they sold the product.

I’m not talking about toys from China with lead in the paint or asbestos in floor tiles. What pisses me off is U.S. companies making products that they know are either defective or do not do what they are advertised to do. I don’t like excessive regulation any more than you but I also do not like big industry groups lobbying Congress with big bucks and campaign donations. Who do you think a congress critter is going to listen to, my individual letter or a lobbyist with campaign contributions.

We have the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), brought about approximately 100 years ago due to egregious conditions in the meat packing industry.

Again, from Wikipedia, “Sinclair's account of workers falling into meat processing tanks and being ground, along with animal parts, into "Durham's Pure Leaf Lard", gripped public attention. The morbidity of the working conditions as well as the exploitation of children and women alike that Sinclair exposed, showed the corruption taking place inside the meat packing factories.”

The Great Depression of the 1930s was caused by unbridled greed in the 1920s. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission (FDIC) are two of the regulatory agencies that were put in place in order to prevent another depression. The chipping away during the 90s of the regulations those agencies had put in place concerning banking and investments have led directly to the housing bubble and the current recession.

Lacking rules, regulation and enforcement, essentially allowing “the law of the jungle” or survival of the fittest, you end up with a king or a dictator or worse. I would prefer to live with a minimum of rules. But I willingly use seat belts in my car, have liability insurance on all my vehicles. I comply with city and county zoning laws. As a society, we seem to have no complaints.

I think it is a mistake to blame the public, the consumer, the victim for buying a product when the manufacturer knew the product was defective. Be it automobile tires, roll over protection on SUVs or baby cribs, no matter how many slick lawyers they hire, those manufacturers have a moral or ethical obligation to their customers as part of the social fabric that ties us all together.

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