What Do We Do Now?

March of Dimes poster circa late 1950s
Image via Wikipedia

The word “Polio” was once among the most frightening words a parent could hear. Children who had been perfectly healthy would, after contracting the disease, be either killed or severely crippled for life.

In the summer, even the hint of polio would lead to the closing of all pools. A President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, had been stricken with the disease and founded the March of Dimes as a program to raise funds for research into the cure, or hopefully, the prevention of this disease.

My mother took me on one of her walks through the neighborhood collecting dimes for the effort. A great moment of modern medicine came with the announcement of the Salk vaccine as a preventive measure. There was a huge collective sigh of relief among all the parents.

A friend later told me of her experience that day. She had been active in the March of Dimes and went to the office that day expecting to find total joy. Instead, people were stunned and looking around wondering “What do we do now?”

The march of Dimes foundation did come up with something to do next. It “turned its focus to preventing birth defects and infant mortality.” With this new purpose, it continued to aid infants and children.

Private charities and businesses always have to provide a service or meet a goal. Their product or service is funded to the extent the public sees value in it.

Government agencies are different. They function on funding and political support which can come for reasons other than utility. An agency may have a large facility in the district or state of a powerful member of Congress. The employees and suppliers for the agency may provide a major political faction that politicians seek to please to keep their votes.

There is also a trick of definitions. First Lady Michelle Obama went to a food kitchen to help feed the poor. A photograph of the scene showed many “poor” people holding up their cell phones to take a picture of Mrs. Obama.

Government agencies set up to help the poor run out of a mission if there are no poor people. Even if the “poorest” person in the United States lives better than the average citizen of European country, the government agency can still come up with a definition of relative poverty to ensure that it has something to do.

The same thing happens when it comes to “clean air.” How can anybody be against clean air” But, how clean and at what cost?’ I grew up in an era of dirty air. If you want to see dirty air, go to China.

But now, the combination of the EPA and many Environmental groups are in denial about the progress that has been made. They are still talking as if the air is severely polluted. Again, it is a numbers game.

We used to be able to see the pollution. Now we are told that the difference between “clean” air and “dirty” air is the difference between 80 and 60 ozone “parts per billion” in the air.

The EPA has told a member of Congress that it considers itself “prohibited” by law from considering costs when setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). It may be that the law is unrealistic.

Because of the bad economic environment and the need to “focus on jobs”, President Obama has just asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday to withdraw an NAAQS rule which would have forced the closing of many coal-fired plants in the central part of the country.

Mr. Obama is planning a speech this week on jobs and the economy. His move to block the EPA rule is a good first start. But, for now, he is leaving open the option of reconsidering the rule as part of a 2013 review. The threat of this rule being enacted either in 2013, or in the last days of 21012 should he lose the election, will continue to discourage economic activity in the areas covered by that rule.

We need political leadership which is willing to say there are limits to how clean the air must be and what level of wealth is no longer poor. If the leadership fails, the government agencies looking for something to do will continue to play games with definitions and impose serious costs on society.

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