Congratulations, fellow “anti-business activists.” It seems we have forced the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to commit $100 million for a campaign designed to remind Americans that they are supposed to love capitalism.
“Many union leaders, some environmentalists, and a growing force of anti-business activists are pushing governments at all levels to close trading markets, lock down capital markets, expand entitlements, and raise taxes and debt to unsustainable levels,” proclaimed the Chamber’s CEO Thomas J. Donohue (photo) recently. “We are going to activate free enterprise supporters, educate the public, and hold politicians accountable as we defend and advance economic freedom.”
After this gratuitous and somewhat puzzling swipe at activists, Donohue made it clear that the campaign’s real target is the federal government, which he suggested is preparing “an avalanche of new rules, restrictions, mandates, and taxes.” However, the events of the past year — the financial bailout, unprecedented intervention in the auto industry, a huge stimulus program, etc. — make it impossible for even Donohue to preach the laissez-faire gospel in its pure form.
“Dire economic circumstances have certainly justified some out-of-the-ordinary remedial actions by government,” Donohue acknowledged. “But enough is enough. If we don’t stop the rapidly growing influence of government over private sector activity, we will squander America’s unmatched capacity to innovate and create a standard of living and free society that are the envy of the world.”
But where is this “avalanche” of new heavy-handed federal interference? The Obama Administration has done its best to limit intervention in the private sector, despite the gravity of the economic crisis. It resisted the pressure to nationalize the likes of Citigroup and Bank of America. Obama was more aggressive in restructuring General Motors, but he insists the feds will not be involved in managing the automaker and will return it to private ownership as soon as possible.
The Administration supported efforts in Congress to curb abusive practices by credit-card companies, but the reform avoided the more radical step of capping interest rates. Along with the Democratic leadership in Congress, the Administration has rejected the single-payer solution to healthcare reform, and it is unclear whether the half-baked alternative of a public option alongside private insurers will make it into the final bill. Obama has moved to restrict but not abolish the environmentally destructive practice of mountaintop removal by major coal mining corporations. And the key demand of organized labor — the Employee Free Choice Act — appears to be stalled in the Senate.
Now comes Obama’s ballyhooed overhaul of financial regulation. The plan has some good features, such as the creation of a consumer protection agency for financial products, but overall it focuses more on rearranging the structure of the regulatory system — mainly by giving more power to the Federal Reserve — rather than truly reining in financial institutions and markets. Even the New York Times pointed out the limited nature of the reforms: “Everywhere you look in the plan, you see the same thing: additional regulations on the margin, but nothing that amounts to a true overhaul.”
Obama seemed to acknowledge that the plan was less than audacious, saying:
In these efforts, we seek a careful balance. I’ve always been a strong believer in the power of the free market. It has been and will remain the engine of America’s progress — the source of prosperity that’s unrivaled in history. I believe that jobs are best created not by government, but by businesses and entrepreneurs who are willing to take a risk on a good idea. I believe that our role is not to disparage wealth, but to expand its reach; not to stifle the market, but to strengthen its ability to unleash the creativity and innovation that still make this nation the envy of the world.
Huh? Did Donohue use part of the $100 million to bribe an Obama speechwriter to insert Chamber talking points into the President’s remarks? Or is Obama reminding us that neither he nor anyone else in official Washington intends to do anything that seriously challenges corporate power?