Normative Narratives

Transparency Report: Not All Regulations are Equal, Not All Compromise is Good

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A recent New York Times poll on the achievability of “The American Dream” produced some concerning yet unsurprising results:

Notwithstanding the bleaker view of upward mobility, the majority of those polled said they were more concerned about the possibility that too much regulation in Washington could stymie the economy than they were about the prospect of inequality. Fifty-four percent of respondents said that “over-regulation that may interfere with economic growth” was a bigger problem than “too little regulation that may create an unequal distribution of wealth.” Only 38 percent said that too little regulation posed a bigger problem.

That answer was particularly noteworthy given the persistent concerns among economists and politicians from both parties about a growing gap between the wealthiest Americans and the middle class.

Still, almost six years after the height of the financial crisis, Americans’ wariness about the banking industry that was at its center remains. Only 4 percent of respondents said they had “a lot” of confidence “in Wall Street bankers and brokers,” though 31 percent said they had “some” confidence in Wall Street. Nonetheless, 44 percent said they trusted their own bank “a lot,” and 37 percent said they trusted their banks “some.”

My question is, if not the federal government, who can regulate Wall St?

Recently attention has focused on the Federal Reserve Bank of NY, which plays an outsized roll in financial regulation as NYC is the world’s largest financial hub. However, the NY Fed’s role in financial regulation is complementary to federal regulation–it is not a substitute. 

People may not be enamored with federal financial regulation, but the answer is more regulatory power, not rolling back key provisions of the already insufficient Dodd-Frank Act.

These reported beliefs on government regulation are not surprising (to me) because the rationale behind them is clearly explained by Matt Taibbi in his book “Griftopia” (which he discusses in an interview on Wall St. Cheat-sheet):

Basically, government regulation is the kind of stuff a lot of them see on a day-to-day basis, but in a different form. If they’re a hardware store owner, they see a local health inspector or an ADA inspector coming by to make sure they’re in compliance with something. These are all little annoyances and costs that they see when they interact with government. Unfortunately, that’s what they think financial regulation is. They don’t get that it’s a completely different ball game when you’re talking about JP Morgan Chase (JPM), Goldman Sachs (GS), and that level of power requiring oversight.

This is how the GOP sells its agenda to the average Americans (aside from exploiting social rifts, which can only go so far): anything provided by the public sector (regulation, welfare programs) is ineffective and holds back growth, therefore the path to prosperity lies in deregulation and slashing the social safety net.

Over-regulation may be a problem for regular Americans at the local level. But federal under-regulation of the financial sector, environmental concerns, and campaign finance, threaten our economic stability, future, and democratic processes respectively (these also happen to be the areas where Republicans are rolling back regulations in the current government spending bill).

But the way the GOP is pushing its deregulation agenda is almost as reprehensible as the socioeconomic consequences. The environmental issue is divisive, but there is a broad consensus among Americans in favor of tighter financial regulation and campaign finance reform.

No Congressman or woman campaigned on financial deregulation or easing campaign finance restrictions, as such an agenda would never be popular enough to get someone elected. But the GOP has essentially tied the ability to run the country to these very issues.

Compromise should be measured not only quantitatively (how often did congress compromise) but also qualitatively (what did congress compromises on). While there certainly needs to be more bipartisan cooperation in Washington, there also needs to be red-lines.

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