A popular bumper sticker in circulation during the past couple of years reads ''Each New Government Regulation Is a Loss of My Personal Freedom.'' This rallying cry stems from the notion that greater freedom by the private sector and less control by government will produce a higher quality life for our citizens.
But will more states' rights and fewer regulations really benefit society as a whole? I think not.
Having been raised in the South during the '50s and '60s I can easily recall that it was federal not state laws which brought about civil rights voting privileges and other individual freedoms to minorities. And does it really make sense for the federal government to allow Appalachian coal mining states to regulate and enforce surface mining, where economic pressures and industry lobbying often produce a weak, shortsighted regulatory mechanism? If history has taught us anything it is that the Appalachian states have been unable to regulate coal mining. A single plane flight over the mountains of Kentucky and East Tennessee, many of which have been ravaged by surface mining, easily confirms that.
The antiregulatory fever in Washington may actually prove to be hazardous to our health. A weakened Clean Air Act may reduce the cost of our cars and power bills, but what about the added health costs due to increased incidence of disease?
Government, which isn't hindered by the short to midterm outlook for the bottom line, must make the proper decisions today to ensure a quality of life tomorrow for our children and their children. Examples are easy to find. The free market may have given us Walt Disney World but it would have never given us Yellowstone National Park as we know it today.
Yet, Interior Secretary James Watt has attempted to declare a moratorium on the traditional government function of setting aside additional parklands, and has even claimed membership in the ''Sagebrush Rebellion''--a group advocating that the federal government turn over its public lands to the private sector.
We are losing over 12 square miles of farmland per day to development, not to mention the annual loss of tons of topsoil due to erosion. If this situation is allowed to become a crisis 15 to 20 years from now, the free market will respond well, but it is government's role today to prevent such a crisis from arising.
It seems odd that we possess the individual freedom to own and drive a four-mile-per-gallon recreational vehicle to our heart's content, while some of our nation's leaders advocate opening up our last remaining wilderness areas for oil and gas exploration in the interest of reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
We fret over the shortage of bauxite with which to make aluminum, but we still possess the individual freedom--or disincentive--in over 40 states to simply throw this valuable metal away. In my home state of Tennessee we threw away enough aluminum cans last year to provide the aluminum necessary to build 50 Boeing 747 aircraft. A simple government regulation placing a mandatory deposit on these cans would end this reckless waste.
Finally, real estate development unfet-tered by government restrictions often produces undesirable results over the long term. For example, my childhood hometown experienced rapid economic expansion during the '60s and '70s, during which time real estate development gobbled up all of the city's open spaces. City leaders finally acted to build several parks along the city's perimeter, but that offered little solace to the thousands of inner-city youth who failed to benefit by it. A government zoning ordinance or ''open-space plan'' would have prevented this unfortunate scenario.
Perhaps the regulatory pendulum did swing too far during the past two decades , but the danger today is overcompensating for yesterday's excesses.
If the Reagan administration and the ''New Right'' are successful in giving us many more individual freedoms, society as a whole, both now and in the future , will be badly hurt rather than helped.