Ronald Reagan once summed up the effectiveness of big government by proclaiming, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
After nine years at the helm here, I'm sure I've left little doubt as to my feelings about an expanded government, and the general competency thereof. Even when it seems to enjoy a monopoly (i.e., the U.S. Post Office, which posted a $9 billion loss), it doesn't appear to matter as to its effectiveness.
Regardless of where you stand on Reagan's legacy, even his most ardent detractors would have to admit a certain degree of prescience regarding future administrations, particularly that of the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. At press time, we currently have 32 "czars" in the Obama administration. In addition to those higher-profile appointees overseeing such areas as auto recovery and TARP fund distributions, here's a few that you may not be as familiar with: a border czar, a Guantanamo closure czar, a Sudan czar, a Great Lakes czar and a faith-based czar.
But I digress. One week after his September speech before a joint session of Congress where he swung for the fences to rally support for ObamaCare, while unconvincingly (at least to me) sidestepping calls for a single-payer system, the president ventured down to Wall Street - on the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, no less - and before several hundred spectators at Federal Hall threw down a gauntlet, warning against returning to what he termed "reckless and unchecked behavior" while crediting his administration's $787 billion stimulus plan for pulling the nation from the precipice of a second Great Depression. While not surprisingly short on specifics, Obama reiterated his call for the formation of a consumer financial protection agency to enforce new rules to guard consumers against such affronts as predatory lending, and closing regulatory loopholes, which he felt left key officials without any authority to take action.
Yes, few would deny that Wall Street deserves much of the blame for the meltdown. It was basically allowed to run dangerously wild like a toddler wielding a carving knife, selling and packaging murky debt instruments that few understood.
But, by the same token, I doubt many would believe at this juncture that bigger government and "we're really serious this time" policies are the panacea to prevent a future bubble or meltdown.
In fact, aside from some credit-card legislation, there's been very little in the way of reform. Between 400 and 500 banks remain in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s watch list, while there have been more than 90 failures since the beginning of the year.
Unemployment is still flirting with double digits and the task of creating an agency to oversee marketing financial products to consumers, or imbuing the Federal Reserve with broader oversight powers, will likely be Sisyphean in nature considering the amount of resistance it's likely to meet from Wall Street, not to mention the tepid support the measures have gained from Democrats.
Despite the president's victory lap last month, even he surely realizes that his promise to reform health care is likely to jump far ahead of revamping financial oversight in the waiting line. It has been roughly one year since the markets hit bottom and Wall Street is operating in the much the same unregulated way that it was when the entire financial system collapsed. The attendees at the Wall Street speech - which, for those keeping score at home, was a replay of one he made several months earlier - sat with their hands folded and listened politely, and even interrupted his oratory once with applause.
However, deep down I don't get the feeling that they feel much will change - except that government will surely grow larger.
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