Conservatives and Financial Reform

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Jonathan Chait remarks on the “intellectual disarray” in right wing circles concerning financial reform:

Conservatives do not know what to say or think about this. A few of them are calling for breaking up the big banks. A few more are following the Frank Luntz line that regulation is a big favor to Wall Street. But mostly they’re saying… nothing. It’s almost a non-issue at the National Review and Weekly Standard blogs.

This is something that’s been nagging at me lately too. Most of the blogs that spend a lot of time on regulatory reform are liberal or leftish blogs. Most of the books on the subject that aren’t pure journalistic efforts generally come at it from a lefty point of view too. Conservative bloggers, columnists, and talking heads just don’t seem to have an awful lot to say on the issue.

Why? They had plenty to say about healthcare reform, a similarly policy-heavy debate. And regulatory issues have long been a staple of the right. So why don’t conservatives have more to say about it? Jon proposes an answer:

You can see why the issue would pose problems for the right. First, it threatens the self-image they’ve developed over the last year as opponents of the government-business nexus. Second, it’s difficult to work out a free market response. If you let Wall Street invest however it likes, it will eventually precipitate a financial crisis, with massive government intervention being the only option to save the economy. Or else you can break up the big banks, or limit their ability to take on systemic risk. Either way, government has to get involved at some step in the process. It almost seems like conservatives can’t choose which form of government intervention to accept, so many of them just aren’t choosing.

Maybe. I don’t have a better answer, anyway. But it’s not really very compelling. In the past conservatives have always been able to marry their middle class NASCAR wing and their big business wing without much difficulty, and they’ve always been able to construct a free market response of some kind no matter what the issue is. It’s hard to believe that banking reform is really all that big a challenge for them.

One possibility, I suppose, is that this took them by surprise. On most subjects — healthcare, climate change, taxes, etc. — the right has a well honed arsenal of proposals. They may or may not make sense, but they’ve got ’em. Financial reform, conversely, is something they’ve never even thought about. For the past 30 years their only mantra has been to tear down regulation, and that’s pretty obviously a nonstarter right now. So they’ve got nothing.

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