Officer, Arrest That President!

President Obama has cast the widest possible net for criminality in the financial realm, a net that he might come to regret, as he himself falls easily within its coverage.  Indeed, according to the reasoning offered by this most famous president of the Harvard Law Review, he may, by a Sophoclean twist of fate, turn out to be the great criminal he has set out to find.

Obama used his weekly radio address of January 26 to introduce Mary Jo White as his new chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.  In that context, he repeatedly described the focus of his and the SEC's attention as "irresponsible behavior" in the economic realm.  Back when America was dreamily described as "a government of laws, and not of men," one might have sounded an alarm at a president presuming to criminalize anything so vague as "irresponsible behavior." 

These days, when only a fool would imagine such quaint niceties are relevant any longer, we may dispense with the formality of questioning the president's authority to criminalize "irresponsibility," and head straight for the real heart of the matter: what kind of "behavior" is he hoping to demonize this week, in the name of justifying sweeping new federal powers?

In case you are a communist apparatchik, an apologist for tyranny, a good old-fashioned bootlicking coward, or better yet all three -- a journalist -- please allow me to anticipate your scoffing reply, and to answer it: Of course genuine criminal behavior may correctly be described as "irresponsible," thus falling within the purview of the Dear Leader's new catchphrase.  So, however, may a lot of other activities that are not (yet) treated as criminal matters: drinking too much coffee, staying up late on a school night, and playing on the beach until you get a sunburn, for example.

Here are a few other "irresponsible behaviors" that, to my knowledge, no one in Washington is proposing to criminalize as yet: boasting of having used cocaine and marijuana heavily during one's student days, lying about one's country of birth in one's literary agency bio, appointing well-known communists to important positions in the U.S. government, allowing a U.S. diplomatic mission to suffer through a deadly seven hour terrorist attack without making an effort to save them, stoking hatred of "the rich," and pandering to the Muslim Brotherhood.

I could go on with this, but why bother?  Let us return to the main question: what is the president hoping to demonize this week, in the name of justifying sweeping new federal powers?

Happily, Obama was, by his standards, remarkably clear about his meaning during his radio address.

[T]he free market works best for everyone when we have smart, commonsense rules in place to prevent irresponsible behavior.  That's why we passed tough reforms to protect consumers and our financial system from the kind of abuse that nearly brought our economy to its knees.  And that's why we've taken steps to end taxpayer-funded bailouts, and make sure businesses and individuals who do the right thing aren't undermined by those who don't. 

But it's not enough to change the law -- we also need cops on the beat to enforce the law.... 

Mary Jo White has decades of experience cracking down on white-collar criminals and bringing mobsters and terrorists to justice.  At the SEC, she will help complete the task of reforming Wall Street and keep going after irresponsible behavior in the financial industry so that taxpayers don't pay the price.

So you see, it's all very straightforward.  The kind of "irresponsible behavior" Obama is "going after" -- the kind that demands more "commonsense rules" and "cops on the beat" who have experience "cracking down" on "mobsters and terrorists" -- is behavior that risks bringing "our economy to its knees."  It is the kind of behavior that "undermines" those "businesses and individuals" who "do the right thing."

As for specific goals, Obama, once again, outdoes himself in clarity.  The purpose of cracking down on these mobsters and terrorists of the financial industry is "to end taxpayer-funded bailouts."

With such a succinct presentation of the administration's aims, I think Americans ought to be prepared to help the Great Man crack down on "irresponsible behavior" that undermines The People's Economy, in hopes of ending "taxpayer-funded bailouts."

In the name of being helpful, may I suggest a few "commonsense rules" that, if enforced by some "cops on the beat," might satisfy the president's intentions:

(1) No person with political authority may use that authority to impose upon the people any "taxpayer-funded bailouts" of corporations or industries.  After all, no industry or business can avail itself of tax money without the advocacy, votes, and signatures of elected politicians.  Therefore, no regulations designed to end bailouts can be effective unless they address the actual source of such bailouts.  Politicians who vote for bailouts: to the stockade!

(2) No one, having inherited stewardship of a nation laboring under an economy-threatening $10 trillion debt may impose spending increases which enlarge that debt to an economy-dooming $16 trillion.  If this is not the definitive case of "irresponsible behavior" that threatens to "bring the economy to its knees," I don't know what is.  Trillion dollar a year deficit spenders: bread and water!

(3) No one may use the coercive force of political power to restrict the voluntary exchange of legal goods or services -- such as by placing crippling regulations on industrial development or small business ownership in the name of global warming or Gaia worship -- when that restriction, if carried out, would limit wealth- and job-creation.  Such coercive behavior would fall under the category of action that "undermines" businesses and individuals who "do the right thing."  Elected officials who use fake science and New Age religion to curtail the free market: lock 'em up!

(4) No one may take deliberate steps to forcibly prevent children from being educated with a view to achieving their highest potential, such as by seeking to impose lowest common denominator government standards, and to restrict the development of private educational methods and institutions.  Compulsory progressive education lowers the general public intelligence, dilutes public virtue, and increases the likelihood of public compliance with, and election of, politicians who seek to undermine economic freedom and growth in favor of nanny-state control.  Attempting to abolish familial control over the raising and educating of children should result in a permanent restraining order on approaching within a hundred miles of any human under the age of eighteen.

(5) One may not act as the legal protection arm of crony capitalism, such as by creating and maintaining a system of regulations, subsidies, and privileged government contracts under which alone "cronyism" is possible.  (There can be no "cronies" without men of political power who are prepared to be "befriended."  Such men are as guilty of "undermining" businesses and individuals who "do the right thing" as are the so-called "crony capitalists" themselves.)

President Obama's administration is guilty as sin on all five of these counts.  Therefore, as my five rules are based entirely on Obama's own stated purposes and concerns, a little application of the "Officer, arrest thyself" principle seems in order.

A final word regarding the president's stated goal in this "crackdown."  By repeatedly stressing that he is "going after irresponsible behavior in the financial industry so that taxpayers don't pay the price," Obama is playing a neat rhetorical trick. 

Until last week, the bailout argument was about whether government has any authority to use taxpayers' money to fund bailouts of favored industries or corporations.  Obama has shifted the focus to the need to regulate financial activity in order to prevent the conditions that supposedly necessitate taxpayer-funded bailouts.  In truth, however, nothing really necessitates such bailouts.  They are entirely a matter of choice on the part of elected officials who fail to recognize the limits of their authority over private citizens' wallets, or to understand that taxation is not an endless slush fund they may use to pay for their pet projects.  

A failed business or industry is just a bare fact.  It in no way triggers the release of tax money.  Only government can do that.  Obama's stated goal of regulating the "free market" in order to "end taxpayer-funded bailouts" is absurd.  He himself can end such bailouts without regulating, restricting, or demonizing the free market in any way.  Just stop proposing bailouts, demanding tax money to pay for them, and signing them into law.  It is the power of government, not that of the financial industry, that threatens the public with bailouts. 

Obama's claim that he is taking "steps to end taxpayer-funded bailouts" is about as credible as a cumulonimbus cloud claiming it is taking steps to end thunderstorms.  However, by misrepresenting bailouts as an inescapable necessity of markets under certain conditions, he evades the more fundamental argument over whether government has any right to use tax dollars in this way under any conditions.

Furthermore, by creating the misperception that budget-busting bailouts are the fault of the "unregulated" free market, he absolves the real culprit, namely politicians whose regulations force or entice businesses into behaving in ways that are "irresponsible," and who then exploit the resulting "crises" to justify funneling taxpayer money to their select group of cronies, i.e., billionaire friends and political allies.

What Obama's proposals amount to, of course, is the usual progressive attempt to micromanage human existence in the name of protecting a weak, dependent citizenry from all risk, at the expense of their liberty -- in other words, Tocqueville's "soft despotism."

Do you want to assign some "cops on the beat" to "go after" people who act in "irresponsible" ways that threaten the economy, who undermine businesses and individuals who "do the right thing," and who cause taxpayer-funded bailouts? 

Fine.  Officer, arrest that president!