Meddlers At the Gate

America needs genuine financial reform, not stale populist rhetoric.


No. Legislators never would employ crude and simplistic sloganeering like those rowdy anti-gummint protesters.

Just ask Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who this week offered up this eloquent gem: "A party that stands with Wall Street is a party that stands against families and against fairness."

You know Wall Street; it lives to destabilize the family unit. Just scratch the surface and you'll find 8,500 companies trading on the New York Stock Exchange and another 3,200 companies listed on Nasdaq. Nearly 50 percent of households own some form of equities, and 21 million households own individual stocks outside any employer-sponsored plan.

All working together against kids and fairness.

Actually, what Reid's words reveal is an ideological disposition that is wholly unconcerned with creating a healthier Wall Street or a Wall Street scrubbed of crony capitalism and government-produced moral hazard.

Using stale populist rhetoric, Democrats dishonestly pit families against "banks" to generate enough support to pass a fiscal reform bill. But how many voters manipulated by the fear-mongering of Chris Dodd, Reid, or Barack Obama fully understand reform? I sure don't. It's complex stuff, no doubt.

How many of us are aware that these derivatives that politicians rail against are financial tools that often allow people to hedge bets and take insurance on risk? As The New York Times recently reported, entities like Mars, the maker of M&M's, like to dip into the derivative market to insulate themselves from fluctuating prices of sugar and chocolate.

How many voters are aware that the pending Senate reform bill includes a payback to unions in the form of a "proxy access" that would allow labor to manipulate company boards? How many are aware that the bill may give the Treasury Department the right to seize private property and businesses without any significant judicial review?

How many Americans are aware that the reform bill might create a so-called "consumer protection board" that would slather another needless layer of federal red tape on a wide range of businesses—businesses, incidentally, with far less culpability in creating the housing bubble than members of the Senate Banking Committee.

At the same time, the board also may ban private, voluntary arbitration agreements between consumers and financial firms. Why?

How many voters are aware that the Senate reform bill would clamp down on "angel investors"—wealthy individuals who invest in startups with few regulatory guidelines. From Google to Facebook, it was angel investors who undertook the initial risk.

What is appropriate risk? Well, who else but politicians and bureaucrats, both genetically disposed to avoid risk, could be better judges? That is the kind of micromanaging Washington is proposing. Would it not make more sense for government to disentangle itself from the market (and the bailouts), enhance transparency and simply enforce the rules already in place?

Instead, Democrats have boiled down this intricate and wide-ranging legislation into a false choice that pits Wall Street against families. Our attention is to be diverted by a show trial of Goldman Sachs—which, as far as I can tell, is accused of betting against the housing market just as Fannie and Freddie were incentivizing failure—to gin up anger.

No crisis ever is wasted. And for those reflexively averse to risk, profit, and markets, this is an opportunity like no other.

We need financial reform. What we're being offered, it seems, is another piece of command-and-control legislation fast-tracked to avoid the midterm elections—and honest discussion.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his website at www.DavidHarsanyi.com.