Cain’s ‘regulatory reduction commission’

Herman Cain brought his campaign to Iowa this week, where, by some measures, he’s running third among all Republican presidential hopefuls. Will Wilkinson reports on one of the few policy ideas the former pizza company executive is willing to talk about on the stump.

Toward the end of the Q&A session, Cain suggests speeding domestic oil and gas production by creating a “regulatory reduction commission” that will ease regulatory control. In particular, Cain would seek the advice of energy executives whose firms’ efforts have been hindered by environmental regulation. “If you’ve been abused by the EPA like Shell Oil, I’m going to ask the CEO of Shell Oil would he like to be on this commission, and give me some recommendations. The people closest to the problem are the ones who can solve the problem.”

It does not seem to occur to Cain that regulatory policy might not be improved in the public’s interest by amplifying the influence of those it is meant to regulate.

Well, no, of course not. But the idea does tell us something interesting about contemporary conservative thought.

As Cain sees it, regulating oil companies, for example, limits what the oil companies might want to do. The solution, then, is to have oil company officials join a commission to identify which regulations the industry would like to eliminate.

In the case of the environment, how would letting Big Oil effectively regulate itself improve air and water quality? It wouldn’t, but that’s the point. The goal of environmental regulations should have nothing to do with public welfare and everything to do with making oil companies happy.

Indeed, at that same speech, Cain said, in reference to the EPA and Big Oil, “The people closest to the problem are the ones who can solve the problem.”

Got that? The oil industry is close to the “problem” — that is, the problem of prioritizing profit over natural resources — so the industry should be trusted to simply do what it wants to do.

That’s like saying Wall Street should be trusted to regulate itself and private health insurers should be allowed to keep screwing over customers.

Oh, wait, those might be poor examples. Republicans actually already believe this.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.