So whenever I read that regulations are strangling business, I think of Russia. The trash everywhere. My friends, living in a second floor apartment, complaining how the grime that comes in through the window (they can't afford airconditioning) turns everything in the apartment grey. Gulping down breaths of sandpaper. The hell-hole that oil extraction has made of Sakhalin. Seriously, I don't know why more post-apocalyptic movies aren't shot in Sakhalin. Neither words nor pictures can describe the remnants of clear-cut, burnt-over forest -- looking at it, not knowing how long it's been like that, since such forests (I'm told) will almost certainly never grow back. It's something everybody should see once.
At least Russia has a great economy, thanks to deregulation. Or not. New Russians, of course, live quite well, but most people I know (college-educated middle class) are, by American standards, dirt poor. And even New Russians have to breath that shitty, shitty air.
Listening to people complain that environmental regulation is too costly and largely without value, you'd be forgiven for thinking such places didn't exist. You might believe that places without environmental regulations are healthy, wealthy and wise, rather than, for the most part, impoverished and with lousy air and water.
This is the problem with the modern conservative movement in the US, and why I'm writing this post in a science blog. Some time ago, conservatives had a number of ideas that seemed plausible. It turns out, many of them were completely wrong. The brightest of the bunch abandoned these thoroughly-discredited ideas and moved on to new ones. Others, forced to choose between reality and their priors, chose the priors.
The most famous articulation of this position comes from an anonymous Bush aid, quoted by Ron Suskind:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."Even More Reality
It doesn't stop there. Discretionary government spending, one hears, is the cause of our deficits, despite the fact that the deficit is larger than all discretionary government spending. Tax breaks for the rich stimulate the economy, whereas infrastructure improvements are useless. Paul Krugman's blog is one long chronicle of absurd economic fantasy coming from the Right.
Gay marriage harms traditional marriage -- despite the fact that places where gay marriage and civil unions exist (e.g., New England) tend to have lower divorce rates and lower out-of-wedlock birth rates.
European-style medicine is to be avoided at all costs, despite the fact that the European medical system costs less and delivers better results than the American system.
Global warming. Evolution. And so on.
A Strong Opposition
I actually strongly believe in the value of a vibrant, healthy opposition. In my work, I prefer collaborators with whom I don't agree, on the belief that this tension ultimately leads to better work. Group-think is a real concern. There may be actual reasons to avoid a particular environmental regulation, European-style health care, a larger stimulus bill, etc. -- but to the extent that those reasons are based on empirical claims, the claims should actually be right. You don't get to just invent facts.
This is not to say Democrats have no empirical blind spots (they seem to be just as likely to believe that nonsense about vaccines and Autism, for instance), but on the whole, Democrats believe in reality. More to the point, most (top) scientists and researchers are Democrats, which has to influence the party (no data here, but I have yet to meet a Republican scientist, so they can't be that common).
So if you believe in reality, if you believe in doing what works rather than what doesn't, if you care at all about the future of our country, and if you are eligible to vote in the US elections this Fall, vote for the Democrat (or Left-leaning independent, etc., if there's one with a viable chance of winning).