Saturday, June 19, 2010

Joe Barton and the Big Big Debate

What possessed Barton, the ranking Republican on Energy and Commerce? four years ago
excoriated BP's top brass in allowing 270,000 gallons of oil to spill on Alaska's North Slope. How did Barton go from BP as shameful villain to BP as shakedown victim?

this country is now having the sharpest and most emotional debate it's had in more than a century over a deceptively simple question: Which do you trust less - Big Business (including Wall Street) or Big Government?

The crash of Wall Street and the Great Recession has impassioned both sides. The Street can't be trusted because its recklessness wrecked the economy, big business can't be trusted because it's laid off millions of Americans with scant regard for their welfare

On the other hand, government is on the loose because of the giant stimulus package; the yawning budget deficit and hair-raising national debt; the "takeovers" of General Motors, Chrysler, and AIG, along with the firings of several executives; and the huge health-care bill.

Until six months ago, the latter narrative was touted by Republican right, who seemed to be winning the hearts of an ever more angry electorate. Democrats were reluctant to criticize Wall Street and Big Business with nearly the force and consistency of the Republican offensive against Big Government.

then came the tidal wave of revelations about the rapacity of business, the near-meltdown of the Street linked to questionable accounting practices at several of the big banks. Goldman Sachs was shown to have been double-dealing with investors for its own profits. Heath insurers, WellPoint, yanked up their rates showing less interested in the health care than their own bottom lines. And then the terrible mine explosion revealed the recklessness and indifference of one of America's biggest mining companies, Massey Energy.

And now the worst environmental disaster in American history, courtesy of BP.

"I trust Big Business (and Wall Street) more than I trust Big Government" seems bizarre as did Joe Barton. whether the Barton moment convinces the President that it's safe to fully embrace the other story line. The problem is a large percent of their campaign money is coming from big business and Wall Street.

It's not the purpose of the private sector to protect the public. They owe allegiance to their shareholders. Hopefully, they make great products and provide terrific services. If the market is competitive, both consumers and investors gain.

The purpose of government is to protect Americans. Its job is to protect the public from corporate excesses -- enacting laws that bar actions that may hurt the public, and fully enforcing those laws.

We get into trouble when big business and Wall Street spend vast amounts of money to influence government and when government officials pull their punches because they're aiming for lucrative jobs in the private sector.

Big Business and Wall Street more or less than Big Government? The challenge is to keep the two apart (for example, I still think it unwise to have BP run the operation to plug the hole in the bottom of the Gulf)

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