Bob Franken

Fetter Better

Let’s assume we recover from our near collapse. If we do, or even if we pretend to, we need to ponder the overarching lesson we should learn from all this: UNFETTERED CAPITALISM DOES NOT WORK.

We inevitably get sucked into what President Obama calls a “culture of irresponsibility”. Truth be known, it is more a “culture of thievery”, unfettered by “adequate oversight”, as the President puts it, and certainly not by any sense of right and wrong.

The problem is that those who have prospered because they are not fettered by principles or even shame, have framed the debate so it looks like an argument between market freedom and shackles.

They are already lining up their powerful forces (scads of money) to dynamite the road to any meaningful reform.

One would think that after the hustlers caused the collapse of our economy in secret, the need for a “Consumer Financial Protection Agency” would be so obvious, it would be a platitude.

But there they were, the fat cats, loudly, PROUDLY, proclaiming their opposition. “Trust us”, they say, in effect.

As absurd as that argument would seem to be, don’t bet on meaningful consumer protection emerging from the legislative garbage heap. Not when the opponents have access however much of their ill gotten gains they need to spray on the pile.

They, would prefer, of course, a Darwinian system based on the survival of the fittest.

Talk about an UNintelligent design. They conveniently overlook the need for an economy to serve not only a few ruthless “survivors” but an entire society of people who make their contributions outside the wolf pack.

We don’t have to choose between anarchy and paralysis. If we really wanted to we could impose restraints without hobbling the creative energies that bring progress and, dare I say it, prosperity.

As sweeping as the administration’s proposals seem to be, they are only tentative steps toward truly effective regulation by a government and political system that is impotent when it isn’t corrupt. Look at the debilitating battles already underway between bureaucracies warring over their turf…the turf steam-rollered by the forces they’re supposed to control, but don’t.

Whatever remnants of new regulation emerge, they will be minuscule compared to what needs to be done. We really require bold actions to revise an economy that currently leaves our far more people than it includes. Unfortunately, given the political realities, they’re probably unthinkable.

What kind of actions? How about the kind that makes corporate mergers very very difficult to accomplish. The rush toward bigness more often that not crushes the employees and communities that makes the companies lucrative in the first place.

The only ones who benefit when these shotgun marriages are consummated are the parasitic profiteers who suck out billions turning these once-proud corporations into mere ledger items. Everyone else gets what we usually get during a consummation.

I should mention here that as an employee, I’ve gone through several mergers, like nearly everyone else which, to be honest, probably helped shape my opinion and certainly gave me front row seats to see how the games are played.

What inevitably follows is a rush to impose “efficiencies” and “synergy” to make the new behemoths pay off. There’s nothing inherently wrong with “efficiency” and “synergy” of course, but those words are usually semantic camouflage. What they really mean is layoffs and plant closings and corner cutting in customer service and manufacturing.

Finally, once the accountants, lawyers, executives have picked the financial bones of their newly created hybrid they liquidate and go on to strip mine their next company.

What’s required is the financial equivalent of land management. Part of that should be a stringent effort to control the predators that are a constant danger to the environment we all must share.

Tortured metaphors aside, we truly do need to make sure that we make regulation something other than pretense. It is possible by imposing restraints on larcenous impulses that we could create a system that encourages innovation as well as fairness. That way we could all benefit instead of the small group of unfettered war lords who have thrived in the current business frontier.

It will be fascinating to watch how they find ways to circumvent the new rules, if there are any. They will. While they do, they will make sure they thwart any effort to create the fundamental changes we genuinely need…not fetters but serious restraints. And certainly not lip service.

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