There Oughtta Be a Law

“There has always been something uniquely brilliant about America,” said Mitt Romney at the University of Chicago yesterday. “I don’t believe this president understands this fundamental secret of America. And day by day, job-killing regulation by regulation, bureaucrat by bureaucrat, he is crushing the dream and the dreamers. If we continue along this path, our lives will be ruled by bureaucrats and boards, and commissions and czars.”

When I hear Romney and other Republicans and other businessmen complain about regulation, I am reminded of the first two minutes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. where the outlaw Butch Cassidy cases out a bank to rob, and finds, to his sorrow and dismay, that once vulnerable bank has become fortified with locks, vaults, alarms and a guard, who explains why he was hired by the bank. “People kept robbing it.” he tells the thief.

Think about that. Who complains about laws? Outlaws!

“Regulation erodes our freedom,” says Romney. Yes–our freedom to rob, steal, defraud and scam.

Now wonder people say that Romney is not a conservative. He’s not. He’s an anarchist.

It’s pretty rich for Romney to complain about how regulation hampers the economy. We have just finished more than three decades worth of financial deregulation, and as much as anything, it was the elimination of conservative regulations and business practices that led to the mortgage fraud, the over-leveraging, the hidden markets in derivatives and so on that brought on and accelerated the financial collapse. The problem that has hampered our economy for the last four-plus years is a function not of regulation, but specifically of deregulation.

At one point in his speech, Romney hearkened back to America’s innovative past. “A regulator would have shut down the Wright Brothers for their ‘dust pollution.’ And the government would have banned Thomas Edison ’s light bulb. Oh yeah, they just did.” Here he was speaking of new regulations that mandating new minimum performance sof rlight bulbs. Well, for one thing, I’m sorry if the Wright Brothers would have been shit down, but I thought we all kind of agreed that health and safety standards were a good thing for workers; if Romney wants to run on a pro-black lung, pro-brown platform, well, I think he will have at long last found a position Rick Santorum can’t get to the right of. For a second thing, I doubt any inspector would have banned Edison’s light bulb for failing to meet an efficiency standard, given that Edison was setting the efficiency standard. But is he against efficiency standards? How competitive would America’s car companies be if they were still producing the eight miles-per-hour Oldsmobile Toranado?

Nobody likes regulation. Anyone who has stood in an airport security line since 9/11 and thrown away a shampoo bottle understands how annoying regulation can be. Anyone who has put an addition on his house and dealt with local planning boards knows about dictatorial bureaucrats. We absolutely should get rid of stupid regulations, and it should be mandated that at least once a decade, every agency should audit its regulations with an eye towards eliminating and streamlining rules and procedures . The problem is that Romney and his ilk seldom point to actual stupid regulations. In this speech, he named an Idaho couple named Mike and Chantell Sackett who have run afoul of the EPA after making good-faith efforts to comply with the law (see this article). Well, if the EPA is in the wrong, it needs to be stopped; agencies needs to live within the rules, too. My friend Joe Plumeri , the head of the international insurance brokerage Willis Holdings, has pointed out how much his company spends complying with fifty different state insurance regulators, instead of one set of national regulations. That seems to be an excellent example of the pointless cost of over-regulation.

You want to complain to me about a specific regulation and why it should be changed or repealed? I’m all ears. You want to complain about how regulation hurts the economy? I’ll tell you to go talk to the people who invested in or worked at Enron or AIG or Lehman Brothers. I wonder how they feel about regulation.

[Cross-posted at JamieMalanowski.com]

Jamie Malanowski

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.