Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Paying For Howard Dean

In an interview around midnight Monday on his campaign plane with a small group of reporters, Dean listed likely targets for what he dubbed as his "re-regulation" campaign: utilities, large media companies and any business that offers stock options. Dean did not rule out "re-regulating" the telecommunications industry, too.

He also said a Dean administration would require new workers' standards, a much broader right to unionize and new "transparency" requirements for corporations that go beyond the recently enacted Sarbanes-Oxley law. ....

Dean said in the interview that "re-regulation" is a key tool for restoring trust. In doing so, he drew a sharp distinction with Bush, an outspoken advocate of free markets who wants to further deregulate media companies and other key sectors of the economy.

Dean also continued his clear break from Clinton's "New Democrat" philosophy of trying to appease both business and workers with centrist policies. Earlier in the campaign, Dean reversed his prior support for Clinton's free-trade agreements with Mexico, Canada and China. ....

Voters are clearly hungry for government efforts to force better corporate behavior, especially with scandals hitting such industries as mutual funds and accounting, pollsters say. At the same time, they are unlikely to accept the price spikes that Republicans and some Democrats warn could accompany some new regulations.

Yes, yes, there is that little imperfection in this quasi-socialist image from Dr. Dean's fever dream. But it is interesting that even the Washington Post reporter - one of that small group of reporters who got to snuggle with Dr. Dean on his campaign plane as he spoke his fantasies - at least dimly sensed that perhaps running a hugely enlarged part of the process of allocating real resources in the United States through the discretion of politicians and unelected government regulators might actually cost something.

I suppose we will have to wait to see if the Post and its reporter ever catch on to the fact that regulation not only costs a lot, but also often - even usually - doesn't accomplish what the regulators say they are trying to do, and, in fact, often exacerbates the very problems the regulators say they are trying to solve. It isn't necessary to read analyses of the recently enacted Sarbanes-Oxley law that mostly show it is accomplishing nothing of its supposed intents while boosting costs quite a bit. One might have thought that Dr. Dean himself - who has just opted out of the federal public campaign finance system on the grounds that remaining in it would have exacerbated the very campaign fairness problems that the federal election regulators say they are trying to solve - might have had a clue on this. No such luck.

"If the regulations we've got are useless, expensive and counterproductive, then the answer must be more regulation - and lots of it!" Dr. Dean seems to say as he waves around that stethoscope he almost never used in his practice as a specialist in internal medicine.

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