Last week, ag associations from all segments of the nation’s original “green” industry were high-fiving and fist-bumping in elation over the Department of Labor’s (DOL) announcement that it would withdraw its controversial proposal to regulate youth labor in agriculture. Agriculture had good reason to celebrate – the proposal was seen as just one more out-of-touch idea from an administration bent on imposing more and more regulations on a group of businessmen and women they don’t understand, and know even less about.
While more regulation of business, or regulations that single out a business solely on its size, may or may not be a good thing, it’s a safe bet that most in agriculture think over-regulation, or government overreach as it’s popularly called, is a bad idea.
Not that agriculture, by and large, thinks that regulations in general are bad – government clearly has some responsibility for regulatory oversight, particularly when it comes to food safety and related areas. But those regulations must have some common sense and flexibility behind them – they can’t be overly burdensome and create cost and legal barriers to doing business that make the long-term viability of modern agriculture tenuous at best.
In short, a government governs best when it works with private industry, not against it. And here of late, the regulatory environment facing not just agriculture but many industries can only be described as hostile at best.
But there may be more behind that situation than simply an effort by government to stick its nose into more and more aspects of private business, as many have suggested.
Any politician worth his or her campaign war chest knows that suggesting higher taxes to pay for government’s ever-increasing appetite for spending and debt is not a campaign platform they want to stand on. “We’ll cut spending,” they promise, with about as much intention of carrying through as the alcoholic who promises to quit drinking.
So where will all the money come from that government needs to continue feeding its largesse?
Rep. Denny Rehberg, (R-MT), a sixth-generation rancher and chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the DOL’s budget, offers a glimpse. In a news conference last week in the aftermath of the youth labor rule, he shared an example of the federal government’s recent move away from promulgating regulations that offer incentives for businesses to create a safe work environment and toward a more punishment-based philosophy.
He told of a mine in Montana that had a memorandum of understanding regarding worker safety between its safety committee and the government agency that regulates the mining industry. When the current crop of politicians took over in Washington, that memorandum of understanding was cancelled and mine safety inspectors are now looking for violations and handing out fines.
If you can’t raise taxes, what better way to pay for larger and larger government than creating a punishment-based regulatory environment and collecting fines with both hands? Small-town commissioners figured that angle years ago – post a cop at each end of town and write speeding tickets as fast as you can. On a good day, you can ding drivers twice – once as they hit town and again as they flee.
Government overreach is indeed alive and well. But the reasons behind the increasingly hostile regulatory environment and the onslaught of nonsensical regulations are deeper and darker than we may realize.