Why Won't the Fat Lady Sing for Deregulation?

PAUL STEPHEN DEMPSEY

September 13, 1991|By PAUL STEPHEN DEMPSEY

DENVER — Denver-- I know I am in America, land of the free, when I hear the Fat Lady sing the national anthem off-key, or I savor the benefits of deregulation. Both bring tears to my eyes. Deregulation is as American as motherhood, apple pie, and P.T. Barnum. It is high time for Congress to declare a National Deregulation Day, so that we Americans can come together and celebrate its profound accomplishments.

Nothing brought Americans so close as airline deregulation. By jamming seats together in coach and flying us through constipated hub airports, we rub elbows and knees for hours. The plans we fly are now the oldest in the developed world. Nearly 25 percent of the nation's fleet is in bankruptcy (more than 150 airlines collapsed under deregulation); the rest have been repainted a dozen times (there have been more than 50 mergers).

Purchasing an airline ticket is as thrilling as a trip to Las Vegas. If we buy a non-refundable ticket three weeks ahead, promise to sleep in a strange city on Saturday night, and pledge our first-born child, we fly at a fraction of the price paid by the poor guy in the rumpled business suit sandwiched between us.

Before deregulation, we had two bus schedules to follow (Greyhound's and Trailways'). Now there's just one bus line, and it skirts most of those boring little towns off the interstates and in Buffalo Commons.

Before deregulation, television was a ''vast wasteland.'' No longer. Now we can watch full-length half-hour commercials, or network episodes where teen-agers passionately surrender their virginity. Couldn't see that before deregulation.

Cable TV prices have risen at a rate only three times inflation. We now get to watch 20 times the ''Gilligan's Island'' reruns at only three times the price.

Sure, before deregulation we could pick up our telephones and get a clear, crisp line to anywhere in the nation. But now we can buy a car phone and listen to dial-a-porn anywhere in town. We couldn't hear that before deregulation.

Of course, savings-and-loan deregulation will cost us half a trillion dollars, minimum ($5,000-plus per taxpayer). You could hear them sing ''Pennies From Heaven'' on Wall Street as they took their one-third cut. It's a small price to pay for those cute personal checks with the misty nature scenes that were once available only from the banks.

We have a lot to be thankful for. We live in a country where every American has a God-given right to play Monopoly, where the strong can exploit the weak, and a fool and his money are soon parted with junk bonds.

We should support the patriotic Congressmen who courageously wage a relentless war on the last vestiges of regulation in industries like banking, trucking and electric utilities.

Sure, credit-card interest rates froze at the 18-21 percent levels to which they ascended in the late 1970s, when peacetime inflation reached its highest levels ever. More banks bankrupted in the 1980s than in the Great Depression. Maybe Congress didn't deregulate enough. Full deregulation will enable the emergence of the two or three megaBanks that can finally control this country.

Motor-carrier deregulation bankrupted two-thirds of the general freight-trucking companies. But there is still one-third to go.

Electric-utility deregulation will free the corporate raiders to devour the last great bastion of public assets. Leveraged buy-outs are yet another chapter in the predatory saga of Market Darwinism, a creature of the Jeffrey Dahmer school of economics. While it's hard to find an asset-stripped company now stronger, more productive or better able to compete in a global environment, gaze with envy at the mountain of dollars looted by the corporate pirates. Although some went to prison (Club Fed, actually), most realized the American dream, walking away as zillionaires, scot-free. Look while you can, before the lights go dim. The electric company is next.

The Fortune 500 lavishly finance a gaggle of Washington-based think tanks to advance the theology of laissez-faire and its implicit thesis, that unconstrained human greed will produce a better society. Their platoons of free-market economists (alchemists, really) collate mountain of data to prove that stripping away layers of government produces perfect competition and save consumers billions.

So too, stripping the earth's atmosphere of ozone will let in more light.

And it will. Before deregulation, America was floundering, without clear direction, coddling its working class while the Japanese were kicking out its teeth. The Reagan administration gave us direction. It kicked the teeth out of organized labor while coddling the Japanese.

Free trade is trade deregulated. Free trade means a working man can keep his job so long as he's willing to live in a mud hut and eat rice. Those who can't find work will be able to stretch their unemployment checks further with the billions of dollars they save from deregulation.

Let's celebrate National Deregulation Day on a day we all can remember -- every Friday the 13th. Bring out the flag and potato salad and bless America, land of the free, where the rich get richer and the best government is no government. And please, let the Fat Lady sing.

PTC Paul Stephen Dempsey teaches law at the University of Denver. He is the author of ''The Social and Economic Consequences of Deregulation.''

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