There has long been a chorus of conservatives and libertarians singing that a powerful federal government is something to fear. Two plane crashes and the subsequent waffling of the Federal Aviation Administration illustrates why the public should be more worried about the power of giant corporations.
A Lion Air plane crashed into the Java Sea last October and killed all 189 people on board. On March 10, Ethiopian Air Flight 302 went down immediately after takeoff, killing all 157.
Until now, the FAA was the gold standard of airline regulation. Whenever passenger airplanes fell out of the sky, the world followed as the FAA acted. This time, the FAA was days behind taking the same action as regulators in most other countries.
Immediately after it was learned that the Boeing 737 Max 8 was the plane involved in both crashes, the FAA said it would not ground others flying in the U.S. A single day later, its regulators did exactly that.
The agency didn’t hesitate because the crashes were overseas or because the planes belonged to non-American carriers. On March 12, Boeing CEO Dennis A. Muilenburg reportedly called President Donald Trump and asked him to let the planes keep flying. The FAA kept its hands in its pockets.
The next day, when it became clearer that the crashes of the two planes had similarities and that something was clearly wrong, Muilenburg made a second phone call. This time he recommended a temporary halt. Trump blurted out that the planes would be grounded, before the FAA made it official.
Governments regulate businesses, not the other way around. The health, safety, and welfare of the public should be in the hands of public servants whose prime directive is to execute the laws approved by officeholders elected by that public.
After decades of belittling and disparaging government bureaucrats as lazy, uncaring and unnecessarily burdensome, conservatives have been too successful in turning the job of oversight over to the private interests being regulated. In this case, it appears that the FAA had been bargained away to Boeing.
The highest goal of a corporation is not public interest, but profit. Strong government serves to balance the public’s interests against the profit motive.
The nation’s air transportation system and flying public depend on independent regulators. The FAA’s surrender of its power to Boeing is a warning that powerful corporations operating unchecked can be more dangerous than government.