It never ceases to amaze me. Maybe I—and you—should get used to it. But, you have to love the gall of the corporate world—nothing is ever enough. To wit: The Committee on Capital Markets Regulation has recommended regulations be changed to make it harder for the government to indict law-breaking companies or for private lawyers to sue on behalf of injured shareholders or employees. Yes, friends, in the Orwellian corporate spin world, Enron never happened.
One of the he first point that leaps out from the sleep-inducing 152-page interim report is a recommendation that regulations be "focused explicitly on the costs and benefits of regulation." You don’t have to be a policy wonk to remember that cost-benefit analysis was the primary weapon used by corporations, particularly during the Reagan Administration, to push for the trashing some of our most important environmental and workplace safety-and-health laws.
It put a value on a human life—for example, if "only" 1,000 people might die from a carcinogen contained in a chemical sprayed into the air or from asbestos floating through their workplace, well, that was just a cost we had to bear for the "benefit" of the wonderful economic system we enjoy. You could make a plausible argument, indeed, that the threat of global warming is partly due to cost-benefit analysis which helped undercut emissions controls and particularly fuel efficiency standards for cars.
The same cost-benefit theory, apparently, is now being recommended for regulations governing conduct in capital markets. No matter the social importance of barring corruption (which destroys workers lives, for example, when an Enron-like collapse vaporizes thousands of jobs). Or the obvious outcome of a much freer hand for capital markets to do as they wish, increasing the risk of monumental and destabilizing financial collapses (can anyone say "hedge funds?").
The second point is the ideological rant justifying the loosening of such regulations: "The competitiveness of the U.S. economy depends on the strength of the public markets. Moreover, the strength of these capital markets plays an important role in the global economic leadership of the United States." Looking at the ideological make-up of this committee, I’m not shocked that this would be its mantra: chaired by Glenn Hubbard, former Bush Administration Council of Economic Advisors chair and John Thornton, who was president of Goldman Sachs and now is chair of the inside-the-Beltway Brookings Institution, the committee is stocked with investment bankers and free-market ideologues—and not a single citizens’ representative.
"Competitiveness" has been the catch-all phrase that is almost synonymous with "patriotism." It’s hard to find a political leader, now or in the past, who would say, whoa, wait a second, what is the cost of the "competitiveness" and who benefits? Competitiveness, for example, gave us the great de-regulation pushes in the savings-and-loan and airline industries. Didn’t you just love those? And, globally, competitiveness comes up every time you hear one of those captains of industry and their media sycophants pimp for so-called "free trade" agreements.
Indeed, there is a presumption here about our country’s "global economic leadership"—that it is all good. Well, certainly, as a large economic power, we need to play a role in the world. But, as elections throughout South America have shown, where leaders have been chosen in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela partly as a rejection by millions of people of our model of global economic leadership, we should be exercising our leadership in a way that isn’t just about enriching the elite but figuring out to share resources on an over-populated, resource-challenged planet.