Freshman Senator Thom Tillis has told listeners at a Q&A event that he wants markets to kill germs instead of soap and water. Speaking about regulatory reform, he said he thought restaurants should be allowed to opt out of certain regulations, like making employees wash their hands after going to the toilet. He said that as long as the business put up a sign saying that they did not require employees to wash hands, it would be all right. “The market will take care of that,” he laughed because markets have historically been proven to kill 99.9 percent of germs.
The “over regulation” of America is a persistent drum beat for conservatives like Tillis. The belief that red tape is a bad thing and that regulations should be minimal is practically a matter of dogma for Republicans. Tillis has done the nation a service by proving how ridiculous this is. And how dangerous.
Tillis explained his way of thinking at a talk given to the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) on Monday. He told the audience that businesses should be allowed to make “market based decisions as to whether or not they should apply to you.” He noted that businesses who did opt out of the mandatory hand washing rule would probably go out of business. But he also said that his example was an illustration of a “common sense” approach to deregulating the nation. The interlocutor at the event told Tillis he might not shake his hand, just in case the senator had opted out of some basic hygiene himself.
Contrary to Senator Tillis’ opinion, his hand washing example actually illustrates the need for regulation rather than a reason to abolish it. Taking his example out to its logical conclusion shows why. Say one coffee shop decided not to have its employees wash their hands after a bathroom break. Employee A goes to the bathroom for a number two and does not wash their hands before returning to work. Trace amounts of feces on their hands are not washed off and mix with Customer B’s soy latte and a whole bunch of other people’s food and drink. Customer B starts feeling bad a week later. They go to the doctor with symptoms of diarrhea and stomach cramps that have lasted a week. The doctor diagnoses them with a giardia infection, which is commonly transmitted by infected food. Giardia parasites are transmitted through contaminated food. In this case, the parasites were in Customer B’s soy latte because Emplyee A did not wash their hands and their fecal matter contaminated that delicious soy latte.
Giardia infections are rarely fatal in developed countries, so Customer B probably does not need to worry. But how likely is it that Customer B will connect their infection with that cafe? After all, symptoms typically appear about a week after contracting the virus. More than likely, Customer B will have forgotten about the cafe entirely. Because some illnesses like the giardia infection take a relatively long time to show symptoms, chances are people will not attribute their illness to the cafe at all. That means that the market will be pretty slow to shut down that cafe, if it does so at all.
Tillis may argue that he expects people will leave before ordering, but that, again, is a tenuous argument at best. The signs that say employees must wash hands are not always noticeable in bathrooms. Chances are, people will miss the opt-out notice entirely. Furthermore, does he really believe that businesses which have opted out of the hand washing rule will actually make a sign noticeable to the public? They run the risk of losing business. More than likely, businesses will do their best to hide that sign from prospective customers. Once again, the market cannot take care of a problem it does not know about.
But that does not seem to enter into the senator’s thinking. According to Thom Tillis, the best way to kill germs is to let markets do it instead of requiring people to wash their hands, something that science has proven keeps people healthy. Regulations can sometimes be silly, but Tillis is proving that his desire to deregulate everything is equally ridiculous and possibly dangerous. Getting rid of hand washing regulations is not a “common sense” example of possible change. Instead, it is an example that Tillis’ proposal lacks any common sense and is instead motivated by that conservative ideology which believes regulations are stupid rather than safe.
Opinion by Lydia Bradbury