There's been nary a peep out of my capitalism-uber-alles correspondents since the Enron scandal finally started getting some attention a few weeks ago.
Perhaps even they are learning that pure, unbridled capitalism does not work. Government has to provide some oversight and establish some rules. If not, capitalism will do itself in along with the nation's economic well-being.
That's a lesson we should have learned a long time ago. But the Wall Street profiteers and their shills in Congress conveniently ignore the country's sad history of economic chaos and ruined lives, all thanks to the excesses of "free market" capitalism.
There have been several periods of economic strife, each followed by reform movements that succeeded in enacting some regulation to protect the innocent.
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt, after all, who saved capitalism from itself following the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed. Investment companies, banks and publicly traded corporations were subjected to new governmental regulations to protect the people not only from the unscrupulous, but the incompetent.
Securities firms had to abide by new rules, banks had to buy protection for small depositors, insurance companies had to meet minimum requirements to be certified, along with a host of other financial reforms that emanated from Roosevelt's New Deal.
But how soon we forget.
There has been a push the past several years to weaken some of those safeguards. Too cumbersome for business. Too restrictive for the good of the economy. Let the free market, not government, dictate what happens.
Well, we're starting to gather the fruits of that simplistic thinking. The first sign was the savings and loan meltdown of the '80s. Then, partly because of the rush to deregulate utilities, along came the power crisis in California. And now we have Enron and thousands of devastated employees and stockholders, many of them working people who trusted these free-market capitalists to make money for them.
The anti-regulation crowd had opened the door for the shenanigans that allowed Enron to hide its debt and inflate its profits. Congress had successfully fought back an attempt to make accountants more responsive to shareholders and other investors, allowing an Arthur Andersen debacle.
If there's one good thing about this Enron mess, it's that it may wake up some people. There could, after all, be other Enrons out there.
"For more than 20 years, the federal government has given companies fairly free rein, allowing them to operate with less and less regulation," the New York Times said Sunday. "Enron's collapse may well halt that trend."
That can only be good. Capitalism does work, of course, but only if governments of, by and for the people provide safeguards for the people.
Copyright 2002 The Capital Times