Palin: End crony capitalism

posted at 10:55 am on April 23, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

In times gone by, the Democratic Party used to complain that the GOP was the party of “crony capitalism.”  These days, with the political connections of Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms to the Obama administration and to Democrats, the least that can be said is that the playing field has been leveled.  Both Republicans and Democrats spent hundreds of billions on bailouts of supposedly private corporations in 2008 and 2009, saddling American taxpayers with enormous debt while protecting big contributors from utter financial collapse.

Sarah Palin issued a rebuke to the entire practice of crony capitalism from her Facebook platform this morning, and demanded an end to the “too big to fail” mentality that results from it:

The current debate over financial reform demonstrates what happens when political leaders react to a crisis with a raft of new regulations. First off, the people involved in writing government regulations are often lobbyists from the very industry that the new laws are supposed to regulate, and that’s been the case here. It should surprise no one that financial lobbyists are flocking to DC this week. Of course, the big players who can afford lobbyists work the regulations in their favor, while their smaller competitors are left out in the cold. The result here are regulations that institutionalize the “too big to fail” mentality.

Moreover, the financial reform bill gives regulators the power to pick winners and losers, institutionalizing their ability to decide “which firms to rescue or close, and which creditors to reward and how.” Does anyone doubt that firms with the most lobbyists and the biggest campaign donations will be the ones who get seats in the lifeboat? The president is trying to convince us that he’s taking on the Wall Street “fat cats,” but firms like Goldman Sachs are happy with federal regulation because, as one of their lobbyists recently stated, “We partner with regulators.”

They seem to have a nice relationship with the White House too. Goldman showered nearly a million dollars in campaign contributions on candidate Obama. In fact, J.P. Freire notes that President Obama received about seven times more money from Goldman than President Bush received from Enron. Of course, it’s not just the donations; it’s the revolving door. You’ll find the name Goldman Sachs on many an Obama administration résumé, including Rahm Emanuel’s and Tim Geithner’s chief of staff’s. …

Commonsense conservatives acknowledge the need for financial reform and believe that government can play an appropriate role in leveling the playing field and protecting “the dynamism of American capitalism without neglecting the government’s responsibility to protect the American public.” We’re listening closely to the reform discussion in Washington, and we know that government should not burden the market with unnecessary bureaucracy and distorted incentives, nor make a dangerous “too-big-to-fail” mentality the law of the land.

Large firms like Goldman Sachs usually back regulation for a couple of rational reasons.  Regulation tends to favor the status quo, and since they already occupy a large position in the industry, Goldman Sachs would prefer to see that position institutionalized.  Because of their size, the compliance costs don’t impact them as much as they do with smaller competitors, making the smaller companies less of a threat.  Mostly, though, the large players usually get deeply involved in supporting the politicians in both parties that write the regulations, and that usually means the regulations wind up working for them than against them.

That’s the kind of crony capitalism about which Palin warns in her essay, and she saw it first hand in Alaska.  It creates firms that become “too big to fail,” not necessarily for economic reasons but for political reasons.  Excessively regulating industries to promote the interests of its largest players helps make those firms so large that their collapses would create outsized effects on the American economy.

In other words, if you want to end “too big to fail,” getting the endorsement of Goldman Sachs on regulatory changes is probably a counterindication rather than a good sign.

That isn’t to say that some regulatory changes shouldn’t be made.  The derivatives market went largely unsupervised in the years preceding the collapse, for instance, and better oversight is needed on that segment.  However, that was a secondary problem in the financial meltdown. The primary problem was the government intervention in the lending markets that created an irrational bubble in housing — driven by regulation that attempted to expand home ownership by indemnifying lenders against losses on marginal home loans.  That was also crony capitalism, making lenders big financial players and giving firms like Goldman Sachs opportunities to make billions on the junk bonds produced by the process.

We need rational and limited government oversight to ensure that investors don’t get defrauded out of their money.  What we don’t need is the continuation of government picking winners and losers in markets, if for no other reason than because the 2008 collapse showed just how bad it is at making those choices.

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