Who's to blame for 21 pages of new COVID-19 regulations in California? Look in the mirror

By Bart Taylor | Nov 23, 2020


Is President Trump "undermining democracy" by failing to cooperate with the Biden transition team? I have my doubts. The drama is unseemly, but our institutions are strong, weathered by much worse.

What's more troubling is the years-long paralysis in effective governance. Anger and self-pity may appeal to certain voters, but business requires action, results. We send people to Washington, Sacramento, and Denver to make a difference, not bemoan our condition. Compromise and inclusion are the requisite ingredients for progress in American federalism. Our failure to demand either from those we elect poses a larger threat than an embattled one-term president.

Consider the dysfunction in government on display in California, where last week Cal/OSHA rolled out 21 new pages of COVID-related regulations for business to chew on. To read the regs is adventure enough. To contemplate their implementation, for small manufacturers, is almost unthinkable.

But for those ready to pounce and scream government overreach, especially voices on the right, consider this: we're all culpable. For their part, conservatives in California have marginalized their own influence. Is it a mystery why California Republican candidates lose? Of course not. Much of their platform is out of touch with Californians. Those things that business value, articulated in many cases by more conservative voices, are often thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.

More, those out of power today make the case that the state is not worthy of rehabilitation. These voices root for California to fail. And in doing so, they lose even more credibility and influence with voters. It's a death spiral, increasingly difficult to escape.

I know this to be the case because my own industry is also intent on self-destruction. For many personalities, to be popular today is to be first a scathing media critic. Fortunes are made by ridiculing and belittling other media. Imagine a banker or lawyer sending daily emails to customers and colleagues, undermining the profession, belittling competitors. They'd soon be searching for a new profession.

Our self-loathing also spreads the false narrative that our customers don't value our product. Some media outlets relish the chance to beat up on "the media" at every opportunity; you don't see Coca-Cola bashing soft drinks. We can't get our story straight. As a result, we're as guilty as the California GOP in undermining our own success.

California business would instead benefit from a conservative coalition that's earned more influence over the legislative and regulatory agenda. If this were the case, small business wouldn't be staring down 21 pages of new COVID regulations that stand to hamstring, among others, companies in California's brilliant manufacturing ecosystem; that leave businesses responsible for doing what's right, because they do; and shift the burden back to those responsible for managing the pandemic at the end of the day: you and me.

Our 244-year grand experiment in self-governance will endure, but we've been reminded of a lesson along the way: An outsider who gets things done in Washington is an asset. One who grinds the legislative gears to a halt, is a, well, you get the point.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at btaylor@companyweek.com.