So far, the major success of the Trump administration has been its quiet, systematic, dogged elimination of regulations, largely while no one has been looking. And why not? Trump ran as a populist friend of the common man, but he is governing as a Republican. According to that faith-based Party’s orthodoxy, all restraints on free enterprise are the work of the devil; they gum up the works of a capitalist economy that, if left alone, will regulate itself.
If all regulations were to vanish overnight, everyone would be employed, goods and services would be cheaper, and it would be the best of all possible worlds. Unless, of course, we were all robbed blind by predatory businesses while our air, water, food and drugs were tainted.
Daily we are treated to case studies of oligarchic businesses behaving as if the only rule that counts in a capitalist economy is: “There’s one born every minute.” In the 2008 crash, storied Wall Street names destroyed themselves by overreaching. Wells Fargo has recently besmirched it’s century-old, pristine reputation. Houston now finds itself awash in the poisons the fossil fuel industry has been carelessly disposing of for decades. The roll call is long and familiar — Enron, Love Canal, Bear Stearns, Bhopal, BP, the Exxon Valdez, Epipen, Martin Skreli, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Volkswagen, Chipotle, and on and on.
If the evildoers got their comeuppance and made way for fitter firms, that would be lovely. But in this wicked old world it doesn’t work that way. Lax regulation allows them to get away wth murder. The capitalists are all O.J. They hire the craftiest lobbyists to get them the regulations they want passed by a bribed or supine Congress. And on the rare occasion an attempt is made to bring them to account, they can afford the cleverest lawyers and drag the process out for years while they continue to transgress. And the members of the public are left to pick up the bill for their pollution or poisoned products.
The latest case study is Equifax, which just keeps getting sleazier. Not only did the company’s incompetence, greed or laxity cause it to be vulnerable to hacking, but when hack occurred the Equifax executives took weeks to warn the victims whose personal data was put at risk. Meanwhile they sold stock to lock in profits before the announcement that sent the price down 30 percent.
There are 125 million household in the United States and 250 million adults over the age of 18. Equifax allowed criminals to gain access to the data of 143 million people. It is likely every household in the country with enough money to have a credit rating has been compromised. While the capitalists profit, the rest of us are collateral damage.
And now the Washington Post reports a new, even more disgraceful wrinkle. Over the last 20 months, did Equifax ($3.1 billion in annual revenue) spend an additional $1.6 million on cybersecurity to keep its customers safe or to comply wth regulations? No, it spent $1.6 million lobbying Congress to regulate it less.
Equifax is headquartered in Atlanta and got its local Congressman Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), to introduce legislation that would “strike a fair balance” by placing limits on 1) what Equifax could be forced to do to keep customer data safe, 2) what it would be required to do to notify customers of lost data in the event of a breach, and 3) how much it could be forced to pay in customers were damaged.
Alas, for Equifax, the regulatory rollback did not come to a vote before the hack occurred. but the very fact of their seeking such legislation suggests they knew they were vulnerable and were too cheap or stupid to do anything to protect 143 million people. Now, malefactors have got control of all of our Social Security numbers, birthdates, driver’s license information, credit history, bank account information, and so on.
Now, instead of having oversight rolled back, Equifax is being investigated by the FBI, FTC, CFPB, state attorneys general, and will likely face the mother of all class action lawsuits. The cost of their folly could be the bankruptcy of the business, but the villains will almost surely escape jail or penury while their customers suffer the consequences. Apparently in this capitalist world, the customers are unfit to live while the weaselly executives are allowed to float below a golden parachute to a well-earned rest.
If this were an aberration, it would be of little more interest than the two-headed dog at the carnival sideshow. But it is an everyday affair, business as usual. Is it any wonder that 51% of millennials in recent Pew polling, don’t support capitalism? This is the generation that came of age with the the dot-com bubble, the crash of 2008, and the agonizingly slow recovery.
But they are not alone. The only cohort in which over 50 percent of people had a positive view of capitalism were the generations over 50 years of age. Everyone under 50 had a negative view of capitalism. This does not bode well for the future of business. No wonder the oligarchs are so anxious to buy congressmen who will protect them from the wrath of people who are harmed by their goods and services.
Interestingly, Gallup polling from a few years ago earlier showed that only 60 percent of people had a positive view of capitalism and only 53 percent of big business. But 96 percent had a positive view of small businesses. Perhaps this is because it is harder to lie, cheat, steal, and short change when you have to look the customer in the eye and he lives just down the block.