Yesterday’s episode of Last Week Tonight spends most of it’s time talking about North Dakota and its recent oil boom. But “North Dakota” is just a stand in for whichever area is doing the most to deregulate business this week. specifically the kind of deregulation which allows companies to hold no responsibility to the people it employs. Or as the video shows, in the case of independent contractors, the people it doesn’t employ.
Independent contractor status is often a great way to work with people. In my case specifically, it allows me to rant every morning weekday for one of my favorite websites even though the owner is several states away. The classification is also rife for abuses. Like how at one of my previous, unnamed places of employment, a 1099 contractor was basically on call 24/7, but still received no benefits. Including no short term disability insurance when she was injured and couldn’t work.
Deregulation advocates might argue that this is just proof that companies can’t be regulated. That company’s lawyers will always find a way to avoid regulations through contracts or independent contractor status. Which of course is bullshit. Criminals still figure out ways to break the law without getting caught, no one is arguing that we disband police forces. Or we could try to strengthen and regulate our unions so that individual workers and businesses have the support of the larger field when they go into the types of negotiations that lead to unequal contracts. Or we could, at the very least, fully fund the departments which are tasked with making sure that businesses aren’t abusing their employees through unsafe working conditions and unfair employment agreements. But instead we get arguments that companies should have even greater leeway to pass all legal and financial responsibility onto the very companies that they strong armed into those unfair contracts in the first place.
The real issue is this isn’t even the point of deregulation. Advocates of deregulation see it as a way for small and growing businesses to avoid arduous and unnecessary restrictions. Not as a way for any business to avoid taking responsibility for the harm it’s caused to individuals and communities. If you ever find yourself debating the merits of deregulation, and someone says, “Well of course business should be able, through a system of complex contracts with partners on unequal footing, to kill a man and should face absolutely no consequence for that death”, you’ve just lost that argument. Because your opponent is clearly a caricature of the bad guy from a Frank Capra movie and not a real person.
Which also overlooks a fundamental point of the deregulation argument: no one is actually anti- business. No one, either politician or citizen, looks at newly opened shops and wishes they would go back to vacant store fronts. We’re Americans. We love buying things. We just don’t want those businesses to kill us while we’re enjoying them.