Coffin, 4-19-2017

Guest Column: Regulations and the need to recognize that people matter

JimCoffin(Orlando Sentinel, April 19, 2017)

By James Coffin

President Donald J. Trump isn’t shy about voicing his distaste for federal regulations. The main reason? Regulations get in the way of business profits.

Trump campaigned on a promise to roll back regulations. And a mere 10 days into his presidency, he’d already signed an executive order mandating that before any new federal regulation can be implemented, two existing ones must be revoked.

I have no doubt that government departments at times get overly exuberant in their creation of regulations. And such regulations do indeed increase the cost of doing business. Since some or all of those costs get passed on to the clients, we all have a vested interest in ensuring that regulations have a legitimate purpose, and that they’re effectively achieving their purpose.

Certainly, good management calls for regular and thorough regulatory review. In the process, we may discover that a high percentage of regulations achieve little that’s positive. If so, we should eliminate such “non-achievers.”

Monetary return isn’t the only important consideration in business. And even monetary considerations must be viewed from both a micro and a macro perspective. For example, making more profit for today’s shareholders should be reassessed if such profit means that beautiful and productive regions of our planet are transformed into little more than toxic-waste dumps.

Admittedly, building codes and mandatory inspections slow the process of construction and add costs. But when hurricanes blow, when floodwaters rise, when earthquakes shake the very foundations, we suddenly see merit in the quality of construction mandated by regulations.

Today’s tools and equipment include additional components designed to ensure greater safety for the workers. Such features cost money to design and manufacture. But they reduce the likelihood of employee injury. Which in turn reduces the potential that the cost of injuries will have to be borne by employers, employees, insurance companies and, ultimately, society as a whole.

Regulations mean that employers can’t force time-clock workers — with threat of being fired — to work extended shifts and weekends and holidays without appropriate additional compensation for their willingness to go beyond what we’ve collectively decided is a reasonable weekly/daily work commitment. In other words, it’s a moral consideration.

Every major faith tradition has some form of what has come to be called the golden rule — treat others as you’d want to be treated if the tables were turned.

So if you were a factory worker rather than the CEO or a shareholder, what level of pay would you think is equitable? What kind of overtime policies would you believe are reasonable? What form of health insurance would you expect? What safety measures would you hope would be implemented? And if management doesn’t voluntarily do what’s right, what kind of regulations would you want some government entity to impose upon your employer?

The obligations of the corporate world and government don’t revolve solely around managerial efficiency and monetary return. They must include also a universal morality that focuses on individuals, fairness, safety, the common good and care for creation.

Our president and 91 percent of our 535 federal legislators are self-declared Christians. So would it be too much to ask them to ask themselves before they slash regulations willy-nilly: What Would Jesus Do?

James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.