Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Amy Goodman interviews author Mark Schapiro

By LindaBeth

Today's Democracy Now! features an interview with Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power author Mark Schapiro. The whole interview is well worth the listen/watch.

Two things from the interview stuck out at me.

1) The relationship between universal health care and aptness toward regulation of toxic chemicals/testing for toxicity. When our taxes fund the cost of health care, regulating business in order to not poison us through toxic chemicals in things like toys, cosmetics, and the basic materials goods are made up, is to all of our benefit because it affects all of our pocketbooks vis-a-vis tax dollars. It's screwy that we should care about communal health only when we as a society are paying for it, but it makes total sense that society has an interest in regulating companies to keep people healthy because society pays for health costs. There is an economic incentive for companies to be regulated in this way, not just the public health concern (which ought to be enough).

From the transcript:

Well, when the debates began in Europe, one of the—you’ve identified the exact huge motivating force in Europe. The European states pay for healthcare of their citizens. [...] So it’s an enormous financial investment in the health of their citizens, and whereas in America, you know, God forbid something happens to any of us, basically we’re basically on our own. And so, one, we’re on our own financially, which is very difficult. And politically speaking, it creates a less receptive political atmosphere, because there’s not the economic incentive.

2) The equality factor in advocating regulation. I hear the argument that "people" should just be "more aware" and "take responsibility" for the products they buy. Well, that is often easier said than done. But to make that your argument also begs a position of economic privilege. Schapiro said it nicely (emphasis added):

Yeah, there are companies that are ahead of the curve here. I mean, you know, there’s big changes in the market now. And I’m not going to use one name or another, because I don’t want them to offer me some sort of gig afterward. But yes, of course, there are companies in America. Obviously, we have a changing atmosphere here in America, in terms of consumers becoming more aware of these issues.

But I would say one key element of that is, yes, the market moves forward, huge market, organic this and that is growing dramatically—natural products, less toxic ingredients, more green, etc., etc. But there is a very key difference between the market moving those forces and laws. And if you don’t have a law, what you have is a market, that if people have the money and the knowledge, they can actually go seek out the products. And I’m sure people can figure out how to do that. But if you have a law, people—it makes it far more equitable, because everybody gets the same protections, whether you have the resources or the knowledge to pursue the alternatives.

This is a key point: being protected shouldn't be a function of privilege, but a function of being human.

I encourage you to watch or listen to the whole interview, and I know I will be checking out his book.

(Cross-posted to Speak Truth to Power)

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