Friday, March 23, 2012

Lying: An Unregulated Industry

We keep hearing the same theme on the Republican campaign trail, the same tired bromide about how government weighs heavily on the private sector, the onerous regulations that sap our energy, and the ruinous taxes that undermine private initiative. And of course, all of this is what President Obama wants, because liberals, especially the foreign-born dark ones, want bureaucrats to take over the economy. That's why there are fewer civil servants now than when Obama assumed office. He wanted to destroy the big banks, which is why he rescued them. And his anti-corporate mentality explains not only that GM is turning profits and cutting paychecks, but that corporate profits are way up, as is the stock market. Private sector job creation has steadily climbed, despite Obama's confiscatory socialism. And he wants to drive up oil prices, which is why domestic oil production-and domestic drilling permits-- have increased every year since Bush left office, the same year Wall Street triggered the recession.

For some people, in other words, facts don't matter. Not even to presidential candidates. We have been subjected to a barrage of rhetoric that says essentially two things: 1) taxes are too high, and that is half the reason why the economy is sluggish, and 2) regulations are too numerous and burdensome, which is the other half. The solution? It's simple. In the Manichean mind of Republicanism, all policy prescriptions are simple; cut taxes and regulations. 

Never mind that we already have the lowest taxes in the OECD; no where else are the very wealthy able to protect so much of their money. And that nonsense about corporate taxes at a ruinous 35%? I addressed that here. Union death-grip on the economy? The United States has the lowest union membership in the entire OECD. And it has been steadily declining, exactly what conservatives have always wanted. And we have the cheapest gasoline in the OECD as well.

But that campaign theme, the one about unleashing the private sector by gutting taxes and government? None of the four Republicans left standing (OK, Paul and Gingrich are on their knees) ever misses a chance to tell voters that fewer corporate regulations means freedom for us all. We are left with a truism that Republicans have understood better than Democrats: you can get enough people, not all, but enough of them, to believe outrageous and nonsensical tripe if you just repeat it enough, preferably with confidence and conviction, if not outright rage.

Now for some reality. According to Ifo Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, in a study that compiled World Bank data, and entitled Business Regulation in International Comparison (available here), the United States is a mighty fine place to do business. The US is suffering, and fares poorly when broad demographic data are compared to similar OECD members, but when it comes to business getting what it wants, the US scored higher than any other large country. It was third overall (among a total of 30 OECD and non-OECD countries), bested marginally by smallish New Zealand and Singapore.

The US scored highest in category 5 -protecting investors- confirming the charge that government prioritizes the interests of the investor class. And we were fourth-best, right up there with the two authoritarian states, Hong Kong and Singapore, when it came to the relative ease of starting a business. The real kicker is that the US was also ranked fourth-best when it came to hiring and firing workers, where nations scored high if business was able to fire workers easily and avoid costly penalties and benefits.

Republicans like Romney and Santorum have been telling us that they will unleash the private sector from that horrid Obama, and they will do it by ever more tax cuts, ever fewer regulations.

They are full of shit. The reality is almost the complete opposite of their fact-free narrative. If suppressing working-class wages and unions, enabling and subsidizing the welfare queens on Wall Street, cutting taxes for the investor class, and letting management compensation run wild were the appropriate policy tools, Wall Street would not have crashed and we would not have had the recession in the first place.

If you know anything about economic history, you know that we have been on this path for decades. And all the Republican candidates can do is call for more of it.

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