Civilized Political Economy

Each time people are shocked and horrified because they believe that they live under a regime of a mature and civilized political economy. They have been told that for-profit entrepreneurs care about their health and safety; they are taught that their elected governments will force entrepreneurs to put health and safety and environments ahead of profit-maximization.

They want to believe all of this because their daily lives would be miserable if they thought that their food was unsafe, that most products they use are unchecked for dangers, that there are hundreds and thousands of untested toxic substances used in profit-making activities and released into their environments, that their physical recreational activities are largely unmonitored and unregulated, that their workplaces are high hazard zones. They are gulled into believing that everyone, profit-chasers and governments, cares about them because, at any one time, there is a high decibel vociferous debate, usually dominated by apparently respectable profit-seekers and their professional think-tanks, about how unnecessary government regulations impede the creation of wealth while, at the same time, they fail to protect society.

An impression is left that there is a great deal of supervision and monitoring. It looks to all the world that it is not the lack of regulation by governments, but its excesses, that impoverish and endanger us. Thus it is that, when a Lac-Mgantic occurs, everyone is surprised that it could happen at all: surely something has gone wrong with the otherwise satisfactory operations of profit-seekers and/or the well-established government oversight over profit-making?

But, the only thing that is special about a Lac-Mgantic is the sudden manner in which a huge amount of harm is inflicted. The infliction of harms is a daily event; but it is experienced as atomized, isolated events, unworthy of news coverage. We hardly notice the steady dripping of blood, the innumerable illnesses, serious and minor, daily deaths and incremental deterioration of our physical environments. We are systematically desensitized to the catastrophic dimensions of the injuries that regulated profit-seekers inflict. This is an amazing triumph for harm-inflicting profiteers. To illustrate:

While the trauma of a Westray, understandably and rightly, demands everyones attention, the 26 miners who died in one spectacular explosion are but a tiny fragment of the number of workers injured and killed every day. In Canada, roughly one thousand people are killed on the job each and every year, nearly 5 every working day; 10,000 die earlier than they might have because of occupationally related illnesses each and every year. World-wide, 2 million people die at work every single year; 260 million more are injured while at work. And, yearly, 160 million are afflicted by job-related illnesses. The number of deaths and illnesses attributable to environmental pollution and degradation are equally staggering; product contamination, unsafe vehicles, equipment, drugs and pharmaceuticals, all exact huge tolls.

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