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MOLLY IVINS Gummint D’regulators Here in Newts America, we all know that government regulation is bad bad bad If I had a nickel for every speech I’ve listened to by every public official talking about the evils of government regula tion, Id be richer than H Ross. We’re hell-bent on downsizing government here in the Republican Revolution, where marketplace mysticism is the faith of the day. Deregulation, freemarket fundamentalism, unleash capitalism, greed-is-good, cut taxes, cut spending, cut welfare and make the poor folks read Milton Friedman. And then some plane in the deregulated airline industry crashes in the Everglades, and there’s hell to pay because the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t prevent the accident. God forbid that anyone should suggest that the FAA needs a lot more money, more inspectors and more training. This is the Republican Revolution, and the only thing we want more of is profits. Listen to all those pols on Sunday morning indignantly demanding to know why the FAA didn’t shut down ValuJet. Honey, if the FAA had, those same politicians would have been on television using it as a classic example of bad government regulation, interference in the free market, petty rules and burdensome bureaucracy killing the spirit of entrepreneurship. Here was this fresh, young company, taking on the giants of the industry, and the government shuts it down for not dotting some “i” or crossing some “t.” The FAA would have been cussed from hell to breakfast. 0 n what may be a different topic, I’ve got a nomination for Best Piece of Public Interest Reporting of 1996, and even though the year isn’t half over, I bet this one wins a slew of prizes. It’s Michael Hudson’s piece in the May 20 issue of The Nation, called “Cashing in on Poverty.” And which poverty pimps have been nailed this time? Which self-appointed spokesmen for the poor, welfare Cadillac drivers and double-dipping anti-poverty bureaucrats are we exposing now? Try Ford, Citibank, NationsBank, Bank of America, American Express, Western Union and Textron, for starters. You didn’t really think that Wall Street would be left behind once they figured out there’s money in poverty, did you? Take every rip-off artist milking an anti-poverty program you ever heard of, add ’em all up and multiply by ten, and you won’t come close to the sum that Wall Street is squeezing out of the poorest people in America. Hudson estimates two hundred billion to three hundred billion dollars a year. “No Credit? No Problem!” “Rent-to-own, only $8.95 a week and you too can have the stereo of your dreams.” “Need a check cashed, but don’t have a bank account? Come right in!” Consumer financingloans available at rates from thirty percent to three hundred percent. Pawnshop chains like Cash Amerloan rates at two hundred percent. What an unholy collection. The downscale consumer-financing operations and pawnshops turn out to have corporate owners on Wall Street. In 1993, three-fifths of the Ford Motor Company’s earnings came from its financial services holdings, and we’re not talking just about the Ford Motor Credit Corporation. Ever heard of Associates Corporation of North America? First Family Financial Services? “Storefront merchants who prey on the poor have always been around,” Hudson writes. “But big companies are fueling the `corporatization’ and expansion of the poverty industry by pouring in growth capital and providing the sheen of brandname respectability to transactions that Wall Street once viewed with distaste. They’re using sophisticated marketing to lure in consumers.” Anyone who’s ever lived at or near the poverty line knows that, as Mehitabel the Cat said, life is just one damn kitten after another. If the car breaks down, you can’t pay the landlord. If the kid gets sick, they’ll cut off your electric ity. The phone company won’t cut you any slack no matter how long you’ve been paying its bills on time, and the tax man can put you in jail. And there’s not a bank in town that will loan you enough to get through the end of the month. Who else can you go to except the friendly, smiling folks at Rip-Off Finance? Hudson’s got some case histories that will make you weepor vomit. But he’s got some solutions as well. Tougher consumer laws and regulatory efforts. Community development banks, credit unions, branch banks in poor neighborhoods to make fair-rate loans. Oh, I forgot. Here in Newt’s America, we can’t talk about regulation anymore, can we? Sorry, the government mustn’t interfere with the sacred free market. Government regulation is bad and is driving businesses If we could just get rid of government regulation, we’d all live happily ever after \(three Molly Ivins, a former Observer editor, is a columnist for the Fort Worth StarTelegram. 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 14, 1996