Only a minority of Americans think there is too much regulation

Despite a massive and endless campaign by business lobbyists and associations to vilify government regulation, 50 percent of Americans in a recent Gallup poll think there is too little regulation or just the right amount, while a minority (46 percent) think there is too much. According to the poll, Democrats tend to think regulation is too lax (42 percent think there is too little regulation while 32 percent think the balance is about right), and more Independents think the balance is right or that there is too little regulation (50 percent) than think there is too much (46 percent).

In one sense, this is good news, showing that anti-government cynicism is substantial but still a minority position. Yet it is disturbing to know that 77 percent of Republicans are so opposed to additional regulation when

  • an estimated 100,000 people a year die needlessly from preventable hospital acquired infections;
  • thousands die, more than 100,000 are hospitalized, and millions are sickened by contaminated food while the rate of infections linked to foodborne salmonella has been rising and food safety rules are stalled in Washington;
  • air pollution that can be controlled for less than $3 billion a year causes between 13,000 and 34,000 preventable, premature deaths, 15,000 preventable, non-fatal heart attacks, 19,000 hospital and emergency room visits and 1.8 million days of missed work or school each year. As Steven Pearlstein points out in a recent column, the projected annual compliance cost of EPA’s final cross-state air pollution rule is $2.4 billion, compared with annual health benefits ranging from $120 billion to $280 billion. But the EPA rule was recently struck down by two Republican judges.

It is perfectly clear to me that more regulation would make millions of us both safer and freer—free from the fear that a random bite of spinach or a routine surgery will kill us or a loved one. And when I look back over the past 40 years and consider how much cleaner our lakes and rivers are now, how much more dangerous our workplaces were, and how unsafe the mines, factories, pharmaceuticals, and even the bridges and railways are in less advanced and less regulated countries like China, the last feeling I have about regulation is that we have too much, rather than too little.