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Late-Campaign Pledges Show American Mythologizing of Business

Just as a reminder of how captured our government has become, President Obama has embarrassingly floated the prospect of a Secretary of Business for his second term. First of all, we already have a Secretary of Commerce, which is pretty much an irrelevant federal agency. So much so, in fact, that the President has proposed its breakup. He wants to merge some Commerce functions with the Small Business Administration and trade agencies, which would create this “Business Department” of which he speaks. And this plan has been formally submitted to Congress, arising out of a State of the Union proposal back in January. So this is in many ways old news, just a change on the nameplate really.

But the idea that you have to promote a “Department of Business,” as if business has nowhere else to turn to get aid from the government (except for, you know, everywhere), borders on insulting. The President, tagged as anti-business even though corporate profits have never been higher, and wage growth, a key component of those profits, never lower, feels the need to promote his business friendliness, to compete in a business-style race to the bottom with Mitt Romney, who will not be outmaneuvered on the subject of friendliness to business. Romney is running on a biography that takes him from the womb directly to the leadership of Bain Capital and then to the Presidential campaign, skipping virtually everything in between. He wants to be seen as a business leader in an age of CNBC, when such leaders are mythologized and adored.

Similarly, you have a Republican nominee vowing to get rid of most regulations on business, and a Democratic nominee insisting that he wants to get rid of plenty of regulations as well. “I have actually initiated a whole process to look back at all the old regulations to see, are there ones that don’t work?” Obama said in the same interview where he hyped the Department of Business. “That should be a project Republicans are happy to work with me on, because if we’re going to streamline government, we should do it smartly.” Obviously, the assumption of streamlining government goes without saying. And that itself is a euphemism for letting the engine of business run hot, no matter the risks.

At some point, the buzzword “business” should not give way to the need to protect consumers, workers, and investors from the various risks revealed by laissez-faire capitalism.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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