The Hole in the Ground at Ground Zero

In his new book, “After America: Get Ready for Armageddon,” columnist Mark Steyn posits that if a man from the 1890s entered a time machine and traveled to the 1950s he would be astonished at the changes in America.  Imagine! A “refrigerator” that keeps food cold!  Look, a contraption is washing people’s clothes — no human hands involved!  And how about that shiny machine carrying people really quickly down the street?!

Then Steyn posits that this man jumps back in the time machine and fast forwards to today, another 60 years later, only to be disappointed that little has changed from 1950.  True, the machines are sleeker, faster, more mobile, but other than that, not much is different.

The one exception being the personal computer (and its ramifications), which — as Steyn points out — got its start when two guys named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed a company called Apple in their garage.

What’s Steyn’s point?  That the bureaucratic regulatory state that is now America is stifling entrepreneurialism and free enterprise — and, as a result, innovation.  Case in point:  Today, merely complying with federal (not state or local) regulations costs around $1.5 trillion a year.

In the 1920s in medicine, Steyn notes, penicillin and insulin were discovered, as were the first vaccines for tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.  In the 1990s, he adds dryly, the headliners were a vaccine for Hepatitis A and a cure for erectile dysfunction.

Insulin for diabetes, Steyn writes, took around two years to get “from concept to patient.”  Today it takes more than five years before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will okay a product for sale, and it’s getting slower.  Total FDA approvals between 2006 and 2009 dropped to 74.

And this growing bureaucratic, regulatory sclerosis is now pervasive in all fields of endeavor.

Including building things.  This week in 2001 al Qaeda crashed two airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, reducing them to rubble and creating a giant hole at Ground Zero.  Ten years later One World Trade Center — someday to be 104 floors— is slowly creeping skyward.

The best response to al Qaeda’s handiwork, Steyn writes, “would have been to rebuild the World Trade Center bigger, better, taller — not 150 stories, but 250 stories, a marvel of the age.”  And one that would have sent an important signal to our enemies.

Instead, between debates over the most culturally inclusive design, the environmental impact statements, negotiations with the unions, and the Red Sea of red tape (codes, permits, etc., etc., etc.), whatever replaces the Twin Towers won’t be finished for another 10 years.

By the way, the Empire State Building, built in 1931, took one year and 45 days to complete.