Friday, July 15, 2005

Talking the talk

Many conservatives laud President Bush as following in the footsteps of great conservatives before him, most notably, Ronald Reagan. Yet evidence continues to crop up that sheds light upon Bush's less than pure conservative policies.

The definition of conservatism has found itself in flux in recent years. Bush's adoption of "compassionate conservatism" and former President Clinton's conservative policy decision have muddied the water. However, one tenet of modern conservatism is the belief that business should be deregulated to allow market forces greater influence over the industry.

To that end, a recent study shows that under Bush's watch the economy has seen regulation grow at a greater rate than it has since the 1970's. Post-Dispatch business columnist, Dave Nicklaus, gives the rundown of the recent study.
The Weidenbaum Center has been tracking regulatory spending since the 1970s ... During that decade, regulatory spending grew nearly 9 percent a year in real terms.

That growth shrank to 2.2 percent in the 1980s before rising to 4.2 percent in the 1990s. Interestingly enough, the biggest regulatory ramp-up during that period happened under Bush's father, from 1989 to 1993. Ronald Reagan cut spending during his first term, and Bill Clinton presided over a relatively modest increase of 3.2 percent a year.

Since 2000, regulatory spending has grown at a 6.5 percent annual rate. To be fair to President Bush, the biggest increase has been in the Department of Homeland Security, which had to respond to a new and unanticipated threat after Sept. 11, 2001. Some people also would say that large budget boosts for the Securities and Exchange Commission were a necessary response to a different kind of threat that became apparent after Enron and WorldCom.
Nicklaus is correct that a great deal of the budget increases in the past 5 years have been in the defense arena, but the Department of Homeland Security doesn't qualify as a regulatory agency the way the FEC does.

While the argument that FEC regulation is not hard to make (the fallout from the criminal accounting practices of numerous companies provides millions of pieces of evidence) the conservative belief is that it should be left to the markets to sort out the problems. It is often argued that the stock collapse of the involved companies demonstrates that the market is working, despite the Econ 101 lesson that asymmetrical information (such as deceptive accounting practices) constitutes a market failure.

While the right will continue to tout Bush as a conservative icon, these and countless other examples demonstrate a willingness to ignore the truth to serve an idea.

- Murphy

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