We hear a lot about those pesky damned job-killing regulations these days. We’re constantly told that mean old gubmint is messing up everything when it comes to business in this country and getting in the way of honest people making an honest dollar. I don’t believe much of it, myself. I think people are looking for shortcuts again, and hoping we will all just look the other way when the inevitable happens.
Water Crisis in Detroit
Let’s ask the good people of Detroit what they think of the regulations surrounding the water that comes out of the tap, eh? Come in after mowing the lawn and pour yourself a good long glass with a few ice cubes in it and look forward to sitting back and relaxing for a moment or two, considering the job you’ve done and watching the rivulets of condensation join and run down the side of the glass. Refreshing? Could be… But what if the glass was full of brown water? Green water? Yellow water? It makes a difference, doesn’t it?
Long after the Detroit water crisis left the headlines and the national TV news, it remains a problem. And it’s a problem a few Britta filters are not going to be able to solve. We used to have rules about this kind of thing. And there used to be consequences for breaking these rules.
The West, Texas, Fertilizer Plant
Consider the good people of West, Texas. They bought homes and rented apartments and went to work and school and church and thought they were doing everything right. And one day the chemical plant in their neighborhood—in their neighborhood—blew up, killing first responders to the fire and registering more than a two on the earthquake scale. It obliterated the plant. It destroyed a 50-unit apartment building nearby.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
But the worst tragedy may have been the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. March 25th, 1911, was a Saturday, too. Just as it is today. And toward the end of the workday folks back then just as now were thinking of their plans for the rest of the day and tomorrow. Most of the workers in the little upstairs factory were immigrants (we hear a lot about them, too, these days). Most were young and few were really good with English. But they cranked out garments, and they made the factory owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, rich men. And Blanck and Harris, realizing the accident of their good fortune, shared this wealth… hardly at all with the workers who created it. In fact, they distrusted The Ladies who did the sewing so much that they locked the doors of the fire escape one imagines they only grudgingly installed in their facility at all, lest the women steal scraps of fabric, buttons or even completed garments and send the Blanck and Harris fortunes crashing. I can find no record of anything so wasteful as a fire drill ever being held at the factory, though it may be instructive to note that it was common in the garment industry for arson fires to take entire inventories of slow-moving styles of inventory at the time.
Somehow a fire started in the northeast corner of the eighth floor of the Asch building at Washington Place and Greene Street in New York. Triangle occupied the top three floors of that building. At the time the fire broke out a fairly orderly escape was begun but then someone thought to call the corporate offices up on the tenth floor and let them know what was going on. That meant the only elevator would sometimes skip the eighth floor only to come back down full and then return later. More people crammed into the little elevator car until it eventually was overloaded and fell to the bottom of the shaft. People could have used another stairwell but the door to it was locked and the only person with a key had been on one of the first elevators!
More people went to the stairwell, which caused it to give way trapping people on their floor with no chance of escape. Several of these, after examining their alternatives, jumped from the eighth, ninth or tenth floors of the building to the sidewalks below. By that time the Fire Department had arrived, but their ladders would only reach to the sixth floor windows. So all they could do was to watch in horror as each young life was extinguished.
I’m willing to concede that there may be a lot of rules and regulations out there. I’m willing to concede that these may be confusing and even, at times, seemingly at odds with one another. But they are each there for a reason and I don’t believe the answer is in wiping out entire government agencies in the hope of going back to some unrealistic Good Old Days that probably was not very good at all, truth be told.