Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Bosses of Us

I think I've mentioned the concept of extended producer responsibility law before. If I didn't bring it up here, then I've surely bored everyone to tears with it over at Eschaton. The gist of it is, the Europeans are passing stringent regulations based on the radical idea that manufacturers, not taxpayers, are responsible for the effects of industrial materials and processes. There are a lot of good things about such laws, not least of which is that they prod firms to re-engineer and innovate. Oddly enough, though business folk love to talk about adaptation and challenges and opportunities, they often run screaming from all three in real life. And when they get big enough, they often prefer to get laws rewritten, rather than adapt to them.

Luckily for such firms, EPR and related laws may constitute non-tariff barriers to trade under the WTO, and could thus be challenged as illegal. Unluckily for them, consumers in Europe are strongly behind these laws, and will be voting with their pocketbooks. The European market is now much bigger than the US market, and it's increasingly in a position to dictate terms. Also, a lot of US companies have plants in the EU, which will have to abide by EU law, deal with EU-compliant supply chains, and so forth.

One of the most important things the EU favors is a new regulatory regime for chemicals, which is very different from our own deeply flawed TSCA system, particularly in its formal embrace of the precautionary principle. (I'm not even going to get into how bad TSCA is, save for the fact that it fails consumers, government, and business equally.) The implications of this...

Actually, never mind. The only reason I started writing this was to draw your attention to an excellent and very thorough article on this topic in The Nation.

This subject is a hobbyhorse of mine, so I'm sure I'll be going on about it in the future. But for now, suffice it to say that this issue is pertinent to everything that's going on in this country right now. There's no aspect of our lives that won't be affected by it. In my opinion, the EU laws are good, they're sane, and they're long overdue (if not a day late and a euro short). But in coming months, laws like these will be portrayed as the worst threat American business has ever faced. I suspect a good portion of the public debate will boil down to specious analogies between letting Europe "dictate" how we manufacture goods, and giving it "veto power" over protecting ourselves from terrorism, and that BushCo will try to stir up as much cultural and religious outrage as possible (lest anyone imagine for a moment that we could dream of compromising with the effete, God-hating, terrorist-appeasing, taxation-crazed, warm-beer-swilling socialist weasels of Europe).

Oh, and just as a private aside: all the people who thought I was delusional for laying this scenario out over the past decade are cordially invited to go fuck themselves.

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