Brooks column today is sort of a classic from him: on the surface, it’s open-minded, and ambivalent, but ultimately, underneath it all, he manages to advance a deeply conservative argument. His basic point is: yes, everyone’s calling for more regulation in the wake of the financial debacle, but it’s unclear if it was a lack of regulation caused things to go haywire in the first place. (There’s a point there, the ultimate cause might very well just be capitalism. Another newspaper columnist, Karl Marx noted that insane booms, busts and periodic crises were typical of this particular economic system.)
More revealingly, Brooks, also argues that good regulation is really hard and we’ll probably screw it up. So why bother?
(I have to say I admire this style of argumentation immensely. My dream is to someday get to write a column for large audiences where I can smuggle my lefty worldview in under the wrapping of cheerful humor and charitable engagement with my ideological foes.)
This is a good window into conservative thinking on this and many topics: if a task is difficult, government isn’t up to it. But while it’s true that establishing a effective and and dynamic regulatory regime is difficult so was winning World War II and building the interstate highway system. Somehow we managed.
Revealingly, he puts his finger on one of the major obstacles to effective governance here:
We’re going to need squads of low-paid regulators who can stay ahead of the highly paid bankers, auditors and analysts who pace this industry (and who themselves failed to anticipate this turmoil).
Will regulators always be paid less than their high-flying counterparts on Wall Street? Sure! But I’m sure we can close the gap. Hell, if paying a team of regulators obscene amount of money (I’m talking seven figure salaries) forestalled this crisis it would still be a winning investment.