Bob Franken

Financial Reform: Luce Thinking

Clare Boothe Luce left an amazing legacy…several in fact. But none has been more lasting than her maxim “No good deed goes unpunished”. It is a monument to the seeming futility of good intentions. By now, we can all concoct our own platitudes of pointlessness. I know I have:

While failure might breed success, success certainly breeds failure.

Organizations inevitably undermine their aims and ultimately themselves

No good reform won’t be corrupted

And today’s morsel from the cockeyed pessimist:

No language won’t be perverted.

As we know, there are people who have made a lucrative career out of that last one. They are able to take the semantic purpose of a word or phrase and twist it completely around.

Some, like my super spinnerman friend Frank Luntz have turned this into a lucrative art form. But he’s hardly alone in this pursuit of distortion.

Consider former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and our word du jour “Innovation”.

As in Paulson testifying before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and saying “As I think about it, it’s very hard to regulate against innovation.”

What an innocent word it is, defined as “something new or different”. That would be for the normal person, who would see innovation as something desirable to which we want to aspire. Unfortunately, the distortionists have taken the expression and used it as the justification for creative cheating and a rationalization for blocking effective reform.

They paint dire pictures about how restraints will stifle credit, drying up businesses which will be starved of the money they can only get if the bankers and investment houses are allowed to concoct imaginative ways to keep the cash flowing.

Unfortunately, it usually ends up flowing into their own pockets. But hey, it’s “innovation”. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? It is. Except far too often it’s not when shady operators have no fear of the law.

Unless our politicians enact reasonable protections, we can paraphrase Clare Boothe Luce and know for sure that “No bad deeds will be punished”

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