On Tuesday, Barack Obama made the case for easing regulations in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The article, titled “Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System”, was accompanied by a caricature of a scissor-wielding businessman slashing-away at red tape, a symbol that is revered among anti-regulation zealots. In the opening paragraph, the president praises free market capitalism (“the greatest force for prosperity the world has ever known”) and Wall Street (“vibrant entrepreneurialism is the key to our continued global leadership”) while taking aim at the “burdensome” restrictions that prevent speculators from maximizing profits. Even by the administration’s abysmal standards, the article is a new low, which is why the WSJ editors mockingly critiqued Obama’s op-ed as “one of the greatest policy walkbacks in American history”. Here’s a clip from the text:
“Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs……Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance. And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government.
This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. And it orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive. It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades.”
The tone of the article strongly suggests that it wasn’t deregulation that triggered the financial meltdown, but all those pesky rules that inhibit innovation and growth. This is pure revisionism and Obama knows it. But he also knows who he is talking to when he takes a spot on Murdoch’s editorial page; rabid right-wingers who think business can do no wrong. That’s why Obama skips the liberal blather altogether and reiterates themes that read like the daily printout of GOP bullet-points. Here’s how the WSJ’s economics editor David Wessel summed it up:
“Mr. Obama told agencies to scour the books for obsolete rules…..Within 120 days, each agency is to devise “a preliminary plan…to periodically review its existing significant regulations” to see which should be “modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed.”
So now the onus falls on the agencies to “prove” that businesses are not in compliance. That will make it harder to stop bad behavior or to penalize offenders. Obama’s remedy will also extend compliance dates, offer more exemptions, and force regulators to make their judgments on stricter cost-benefit analysis. It’s just one roadblock after another. The net result will be fewer rules, more pollution, a more dangerous working place, more financial fraud, and a general watering down existing regulations. No wonder the Journal’s editors are so elated over Obama’s transformation. He’s abandoned any pretense of serving the public’s interest.
It’s clear, the Obama team is worried that the president hasn’t been sufficiently servile to win big business’s backing in the upcoming 2012 presidential campaign. So they’re pulling out all the stops to show that they can be bigger suck-ups than their Republican rivals. According to Bloomberg, there will be more pandering in the State of the Union Speech; a “call to promote greater accountability in the educational system” (charter schools), an “overhauling of the tax system” (a regressive flat tax), and “cuts to Social Security benefits”. (the steady evisceration of a retirement safetynet) All of these will be wrapped in Obama’s populist rhetoric and invoked as a way of “fighting unemployment”. Obama might just turn out to be the most business friendly president in US history.
MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org