Many years ago, while I was living off-campus at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, I became friendly with the woman who ran the commuter services office. One day, she gave me a quote that I carried in my wallet for many years. I’m embarrassed to say I remember neither the exact words nor the name of the person who wrote them…but the message continues to ring clear.
It was this: As societies grow in population and become more complex, people tend to stumble into one another more often. That is, the actions of one person or group – often unintentionally – impact the lives of others, sometimes with great consequence.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I watch the Trump administration move to end rules and regulations that have been designed to protect us. There is no argument from me that regulators regulate, sometimes wantonly and to single purpose, and need to be held in check. However, in a society as complex as ours, it is not enough to say, “this will create jobs” and then take broad deregulatory actions that will increase the likelihood of poisoning the water we drink or reducing the quality of the air we breathe or limiting
the safety of the food we eat…especially in a government philosophically inclined to limit access to medical care.
We do live closer together now and the federal government has a role in keeping us safe, particularly from those who would make profit at the cost of safety. States can’t fulfill that role…not unless they can create and enforce laws that prohibit water and air from other states with different rules from flowing across their borders.
As we live closer together, our obligation to each other grows if we are to maintain our society. It is a major reason why we elect our public officials..to help us live in a civil society where we balance economic success and personal freedom with public safety and our duty to each other. Focusing on only one side of this equation is a sure path to national decay.