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Can Government Save Us from Manmade Disasters?

Written By: James L. Payne  |  Posted: Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Please, folks, can't we have a little more sophistication about what it takes to prevent environmental disasters? The politicians seem to be stuck on the idea that more government is the solution, and many journalists echo the theme. In discussing the BP spill and several other manmade environmental disasters last summer, Washington Post reporters David A. Fahrenthold and Ylan Q. Mui summarized their explanation of what goes wrong in these situations: "Private interests that took risks in search of a payoff; a government that wasn't trying hard enough to stop them." According to this theory, environmental mishaps mean we didn't have enough government regulation.

The problem with this view is that "government" is an abstraction. In practice everything done in the name of government is done by government employees, ordinary human beings who can be, well, as fallible as anyone. To support this point we need only look at one of the cases Fahrenthold and Mui cited in buttressing their idea that government needs to protect us: the careless spraying of insecticides like DDT.

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