The Pendulum Swings

Sometimes an editorialist does a particularly good job explaining a wide range of stories. Our administrative law archives over the past couple years have become nearly jeremiadic in tone. Though her column was provoked by problems at FAA, Ruth Marcus articulates the common thread tying many of the posts together:

Turns out, the FAA “did not ensure that its inspectors carried out critical safety inspections,” and . . . far from being unique to Southwest, these lapses were “symptomatic of much deeper problems with FAA’s oversight.” The lapses are symptomatic . . . of much deeper problems across the government. These are not outbreaks of sheer, “heck of a job” incompetence. There is some of that, certainly, but this administration’s allergy to government intervention and affection for the private sector have contributed to a spate of regulatory failures, from lead in imported toys to dangerous prescription drugs to subprime mortgages.

The course of these events traces a depressingly familiar arc: paeans to the free market followed by disaster followed by grudging acceptance of regulation. Just a year ago, Treasury Undersecretary Robert Steel proclaimed that new regulation of financial markets was unnecessary because “sophisticated financial firms have both the direct financial incentives and expertise to provide for effective market discipline.” Right. Just ask Bear Stearns.

A few matters appear to merit consideration at the highest levels, but apparently not the nuts and bolts of flight, food, or financial safety. One more intensification of the risk society.

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