Baptists, bootleggers, and Wall Street protesters

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Baptists, bootleggers, and Wall Street protesters

(Centennial Fellow) Across the nation, thousands are protesting Wall Street financial institutions and other corporations that are making more money than people make, as if corporate wage earners and shareholders aren’t people.The crowds are mostly expressing a “general frustration,” one reporter explains.

Or massive confusion easily exploited, maybe? The protesters seem to like President Obama. He also rants against corporate greed, pretending to be a benevolent arbiter of justice, the great savior, a city upon a hill all by himself. But he is not by himself. He is forever serving financial interests in his crisis-confronting campaigns, making everything worse in the end.

Obama’s is the story of “Baptists and bootleggers.” In the initial use of the phrase, Bruce Yandle, a professor then director of the Federal Trade commission, was summing up a major reason regulations often have ill effects. He gave as an illustration Baptists asking that sales of alcohol be prohibited on Sunday to help save people from deleterious, Sabbath-profaning consumption. Bootleggers thought the Baptists were onto something. When legal sales are forbidden, illegal sales go up. Then the politicians signed on. We can imagine them giving high-toned speeches about Sundays marred by booze while getting support from bootleggers who then profited from laws doing nothing to decrease drinking.

Such is the usual structure of governmental interventions: noble-sounding purposes buttressed by self-seeking. The common good often loses and the politicians must then work diligently at covering their tracks. They Don’t always succeed, as when some first-rate investigators wrote “Reckless Endangerment.” It is a book about the bursting of a housing bubble, a consequent rash of foreclosures and a financial crisis that then gave us a recession and killer unemployment.

Wall Street financial institutions hardly get off the hook. Along with Fannie Mae, the quasi-governmental outfit whose boss got super-rich through fallacious policies, they are the bootleggers. The Baptist equivalents were community groups wanting the poor to own homes they could not afford. The enablers were mostly liberal Democrats whose compassion was matched only by all the favors the bankers and Fannie Mae sent their way.

So now let’s trace some of Obama’s Baptist-bootlegger deals. For one, there was a stimulus enacted in response to the economic disaster the politicians helped deliver. It mostly stimulated projects with political benefits for congressional Democrats even as Obama prophesied a jobs miracle that was more nearly a jobs Armageddon.There was his defense of runaway union power threatening states and localities with ruinous pension payments and other benefits to privileged public employees. He’s there for the common folks, he said.

Excuse me, but the common folks were having their heads handed to them.He has long supported subsidizing and mandating ethanol as a way of cutting back on carbon emissions. Studies show that’s a fraud. Other studies show we’re adding $6 billion to deficits while driving up food costs when a record number of Americans are on food stamps. The love spent on farmers and biofuel firms translates into punishment for everyone else.

Who besides environmentalists and Obama want “green” jobs through loan guarantees to solar panel companies? Why, the solar panel companies want them, even though their success could mean the loss of fossil fuel jobs. But Don’t worry too much about success. We’ve recently learned about some of these firms going bankrupt at taxpayer cost.

So now we have these Wall Street protesters saying their cause is rescue for 99 percent of us as opposed to the 1 percent consisting of corporations, and here come the bootleggers, public and private unions, plowing money and manpower into the turmoil while looking not for quicker liquor but dandy candy from politicians willing to deal.

Given the specifics some protesters mention, their math is almost 100 percent wrong. The consequence of political victory might be a few pluses for some unions, but fewer jobs overall, higher prices, more recession and increased debt. Let’s resist this B & B baloney.

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

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