Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Transparency, big government, and big business

Thanks, Michael P., for asking about my views regarding transparency.  I think that transparency is usually (though not quite always) a good thing in the legislative process.  As you rightly suggest, transparency is especially valuable and important in circumstances in which significant financial interests are at stake.  That is why President Obama's betrayal of his oft-repeated promise of transparency in the crafting of health care legislation was so disappointing. It was equally disappointing that so few of the President's supporters criticized him when New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick exposed his administration's pattern of back room dealing with big pharmaceutical and insurance interests.

In the reforms of the financial industry, I certainly hope for a great deal more transparency.  I also hope that my Republican confreres will not suppose that their job is to protect the industry against reforms.  Big business (including big banking) is not bad in itself, but it is not good in itself either.  And big business (including big banking) can become the enemy of competition and other principles and practices that favor and foster the common good.  Indeed, big business too often supports and promotes big government (i.e., government that disrespects and undermines the principle of subsidiarity) because big government serves its financial interests.

Of course, when it comes to reform of anything, everything depends on the content of the reforms.  "Reform" can be misguided, and when it is misguided Republicans (and everyone else) should stand up against it, even at the price of being labeled by their partisan opponents as "enemies of reform" or "protectors of corporate interests."

Sometimes it is supposed that big government is needed to regulate big business; but actually small but strong government can almost always do the job, and is often more likely to do it better.  When big government and big business get together, it is generally small business, entrepreneurs, and the public who end up on the losing end.  And then there is the problem with banks and other businesses that are "too big to fail."  My view is that if they are too big to fail, then they are too great a risk to the taxpayer, the market economy, and our nation's overall economic security.  So I would join Bill Kristol in saying that if a firm is too big to fail, we should closely inquire into whether the overall public interest would be best served by breaking it up into smaller firms. I loathe corporate welfare and bail outs. I think that many of the things that went on at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were disgraceful and that these institutions should either be fully privatized or euthanized.  I believe that Barney Frank and many other members of Congress who functioned as, in essence, enablers of what went on at these institutions should be called to account for their conduct.

Some people evidently were surprised to learn how heavily and disproportionately the super rich and firms like Goldman Sachs supported Obama over McCain.  (Although the media seemed not to notice, Goldman executives gave Obama far more money than Enron exeuctives gave George W. Bush---more than five times as much.)  I was not surprised in the least.  Big business has more to gain and less to fear from big government liberals than from small government conservatives.  (I am not suggesting that McCain was a strict small government man---he was not and is not.)  Moreover, the majority of Wall Street execs and other big business types are social liberals.  Although there are notable and very honorable exceptions, they generally do not support the Republican Party's pro-life stance, nor do they have much sympathy for those of us who dissent from the liberal orthodoxy on questions of sexual morality and marriage.  (If you've ever driven through Greenwich, Connecticut or Scarsdale, New York, you will be aware of what the bumper stickers on the BMWs and Volvos say on these issues.)  So I don't see why Republicans (at least Republicans of my ilk) ought to feel any special kinship with them.  In many ways, they have a great deal more in common with your Democrat confreres.

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