This week our federal government effectively shut down the Fung Wah bus company.. Fung Wah had a loyal customer following because it was ridiculously dirt-cheap, $15 one-way from New York City to Boston. But it was dirt-cheap because it was a death trap on wheels.
Transportation officials didn’t wait until a tragic accident happened to shut it down. Good.
Sometimes libertarians argue that we don’t need government safety regulations because business already have an incentive not to put their customers at risk. But clearly, not every business owner is so enlightened.
Or libertarians may argue that customers themselves will put unsafe companies out of business by voting with their wallets. But sometimes customers can’t know how unsafe a company is until it is too late. Until then, they’ll make hipster videos celebrating low prices and jokingly shrug off safety concerns, putting pressure on competitors to cut corners as well.
Thankfully, we don’t have a libertarian government. We have an active government with a mandate to protect public safety.
But now that our government is functioning under the thumb of sequester, we can’t be sure it will have the resources to meet the mandates we give it.
One month since the sequester hit, Republicans are feeling vindicated that Americans don’t “notice much of a difference”, supposedly proving that we’re only cutting rolls of fat, and we can function just fine with greatly shrunken government.
But such crowing is greatly premature. The sequester isn’t a hammer. It’s a cap on spending that forces agencies to make difficult decisions over the course of several months or more. The impacts won’t all be felt at the same time. And any damage might not surface immediately.
For example, the Transportation Department’s Federal Aviation Administration already is being forced to shut down 149 air traffic control facilities at small airports. There is some outcry in the towns where these airports are located, but most of the country isn’t served by these airports. And since disaster hasn’t struck yet, the outcry is not enough to get Congress to reverse the cuts.
This is just the beginning. Transportation and the other departments are not finished implementing the cuts.
You won’t know how much you’ll miss that air traffic controller until two small planes collide. And you won’t know how much you’ll miss that bus inspection until the day the brakes fail.
Hopefully, it will never come to that. But because conservatives have insisted on the sequester, we can’t be confident we’re going to shut down the next Fung Wah in time.