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How Libertarian-Style Capitalism Killed My Father and My Best Friends

Scientists knew as far back as 100 years ago that asbestos caused a god-awful form of lung cancer, but the insatiable hunger for profits in America prevented it from being banned.

Libertarian capitalism killed my best friends.

Libertarian capitalism also killed my father and the family of one of my coworkers.

Let me explain: there are two ways a nation can allow products to come into the marketplace: the libertarian, unregulated “American way” and the regulated capitalism “European way.”

When a nation, like the United States, uses the libertarian way, it allows corporations to send whatever products they want into the marketplace, regardless of how dangerous those products are. The theory is that once people notice how deadly something is, they will stop buying it and the "free-market" will magically correct itself.

Nations that use the regulated European way, however, force manufacturers to prove that products are safe to use before they’re available for purchase. This is called the “precautionary principle” and it requires manufacturers to prove to government, and thus to society, us that the new product is safe before it’s let it in the marketplace.

Here’s how this country’s libertarian approach to regulation killed my best friends, my father, and the family of one of my coworkers.

Scientists and health  experts knew as far back as one hundred years ago that asbestos caused a god-awful form of lung cancer called mesothelioma, but because America doesn’t use the precautionary principle, toxic asbestos was used in homes, workplaces, and even schools, well into the 1970s.

My friend Terry, my friend Rob, and my father all died of mesothelioma. My coworker Heidi’s life was torn apart by her parents’ fight with the disease and I believe that this pain led directly to her death two years ago.

Consider these human stories:

When Terry O'Connor and I owned an herbal tea factory back in the 1970s, we didn’t mow the front lawn for weeks at a time and the city hit us with a big fine. Terry was an artist and I was a rebel, so instead of paying the fine, we elaborately labeled every weed in the front yard with fully designed artwork on wooden stakes and filled out the appropriate paper work to have our front lawn designated as a botanical garden.

This got us out of that big fine. We could have mowed the lawn in fifteen minutes. Setting up a botanical garden took weeks of what are now wonderful memories.

But years earlier, at the motor wheel factory where he worked for about a year during college, Terry went through one to three pairs of asbestos gloves a day. Along with his other factory workers, he had to use those gloves to remove burning hot steel wheel parts from a giant press that was three stories tall. The line went really fast, and it was dreadful work.

I talked to Terry over the past few months almost every weekend by Skype. His oxygen tube was the least of his discomforts, while chemo flowed through his veins adding a few more weeks or months to his life.

Terry was special and America would have been better with Terry on this planet for another 10 or twenty years. I know I would be better if he was still here. His wife, children and grandchildren would be too.

My Dad, Carl, loved books and loved history and, after spending two years in the army during World War II, was hoping to graduate from college and teach history, perhaps even at the university level if he could hang on to the GI Bill and his day job in a camera store long enough to get his Ph.D. It was 1950, and he'd been married just a few months, when the surprise came that forced him to drop out of college: his wife was pregnant with their first child – me.

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