Monday, 9 August 2010

Russian Fires Fueled by Deregulation: the Annals of Wrong-Headed Government

Wild fires are never pleasant, and the images from Russia lately have been pretty upsetting. Back in May Montreal was blanketed for a day or so by smoke from fires burning in Northern Quebec, but nothing like Moscow has been experiencing, it seems. The hot weather and dry conditions are the cause, some reports say. A case of climate change, others suggest.

But there's more to it than that: plain old capitalist-inspired deregulation is making a bad situation that much worse, Julia Ioffe wrote in The New Yorker blog yesterday:

"A strong argument could be made for calling this disaster Putin’s Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, then-President Putin, in consultation with the Russian timber industry, “reformed” forestry regulations, eliminating positions for rangers, making each of the remaining ones responsible for more territory, increasing paperwork so they spent hardly any time outdoors monitoring the forests—and, on the off chance that they did spot a small fire while on patrol, making it a punishable offense (a misuse of state funds) to put it out. The organization charged with extinguishing fires was the Ministry of Emergency Situations, which responded speedily and capably to the Moscow Metro bombings in March, but a 2005 reform instituted by Putin left regional emergency outfits severely underfunded.

"Except for the minority who read news in papers or online, Russians would never know that shoddy, nonsensical, industry-friendly deregulation was responsible for this natural disaster as much as the weather."

Sounds a bit like what happened with offshore drilling in the US and the tar sands in Canada, doesn't it?

Moral: deregulation is not good, no matter who does it.

1 comment:

Martin Langeland said...

If I remember correctly, much of the regulation in the US during the last century was created at the request of the regulated industries. They wanted to avoid the responsibility for their cut corners. If they could say "But we followed the regs!" that would shift any onus to the regulators. Then they bought tho congress and the courts so that now they don't need such insurance.