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Half of Americans Think Regulation Makes Society Less Fair

A new Rasmussen poll has a startling finding that could turn the blue ideology on its head. Findings released Wednesday indicate that a full 50 percent of likely voters believe that government regulation of the economy makes society less fair, compared to only 22 percent who believe that government intervention will lead to a fairer economy.

This is huge. The connection between more regulation and more fairness is one of the fundamental elements of blue thinking. Throughout the 20th century, the architects of the blue model viewed the government as a bulwark protecting the common man from economic and social forces too large for them to fight on their own. Business regulations were set up to protect workers from unfair practices by employers, while utility regulations were built to protect consumers from price gouging by the big utilities. Their modern descendents follow this model: The Dodd-Frank act has been justified as protecting ordinary citizens from the cutthroat world of Wall Street, while Obamacare has been sold as a protection against unfair practices by major insurance companies. The nuances are different, but the core idea is the same: government regulation creates a level playing field where the common worker can fairly compete with large institutions.

If this poll is at all accurate, the public is no longer on board. Any weakening in the linkage between government and fairness in the public mind undercuts the core idea behind blue programs, which will make them much harder to defend going forward.

Forget election polls; this is the number that should keep Obama up at night.

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  • Brett

    It’s a Rasmussen poll, meaning that you really shouldn’t use it as evidence of anything without other polls that confirm what it finds. Rasmussen polls are notorious for being biased towards an older, more conservative group of respondents because of their polling methods (they don’t weight responses for under-represented groups in polls, don’t poll cellphones, and rely heavily on automated polling).

  • Anthony

    WRM, if half of Americans think regulation makes the society less fair (Rasmussen’s likely voters), then 50% of Americans (Rasmussen’s likely voters) have some other opinion. Civic deadlock appears to be reality that’s not going away anytime soon -you are correct issue is nuanced; yet issue transcends fairness and government regulation.

  • Adam Lang
  • Raymond R

    The general feeling behind people’s view of regulations is the observation that many regulations are written by special interests. Instead of protecting the public’s health, freedom & property from bad actors, many regualtions serve to essentially licence bad actors as they deprive the public of its property, freedom & health within the letter of the regulations

  • John Burke

    I agree with Alan’s question about how they got their result from the questions asked. More generally, I think it’s probably pointless to try to poll the electorate’s feelings about a global abstraction like “fairness.” The result will depend on how the question(s) are asked. You would do better to ask if voters think a series of specific and high profile federal interventions are “fair.”

    That said, Brett’s slap at Rasmussen is unwarranted. Rasmussen has done some very useful and highly accurate polling. It can be argued that automated polls are as accurate or even more accurate as others. Many other pollsters still neglect to include cell phones on the sound theory that any demographic problems can be solved through sample weighting. And Rasmussen does in fact weight its samples, although one can argue with their weighting methods, as is the case with any other poll.

    On the plus side, Rasmussen is screening for likely voters while most others are still polling registered voters or even adults on the grounds that it’s too early to construct a voter screen, which is silly.

  • thibaud

    Only someone who has never lived and worked in a place with a weak and inept state that does not regulate appropriately would believe that “regulation makes society less fair.” That’s like saying that basketball would be more fair if there were no refs, or more fun if the fans and players could pack heat.

    Go spend some time in any of dozens of countries around the world where you have to

    boil your water (because the state doesn’t effectively regulate its municipal water authorities), or

    avoid eating fresh foods you buy in a marketplace (because the health authorities don’t effectively regulate food production), or

    pay 3x or 4x for medications, or automobiles, or children’s toys or almost any manufactured product (because there’s no FDA equivalent and no product safety regulation), or

    avoid putting your money anywhere other than under your mattress (because there’s no SEC or legislation to protect minority investors, or FDIC or other regulatory bodies to protect depositors), or

    watch your neighbors carefully to make sure they don’t re-wire their apartment incorrectly and cause the whole building to burn down (because there’s no efficient or honest regulation of housing)…

    The above describes just some of the barbarities and absurdity of life in countries where the regulatory state is feeble or next to non-existent. That would be the situation in most parts of the BRIC nations and nearly all of the world outside the G20.

    The author has it backwards: it’s the lack of well-regulated markets that is providing a drag on those countries’ growth – in Russia, it’s THE source of the nation’s lower-than-expected growth – not vice-versa.

    Wise capitalists know that effective, efficient markets need rule of law, clear rules, and effective enforcement of those rules by a strong regulatory state.

  • Tom

    Regarding Rasmussen’s accuracy: that may or may not be true regarding adults, but he’s got a good handle on the electorate

    2008 election: predicted Obama would have 364 electoral votes, McCain with 174.
    Final: Obama 365, McCain 173

    2010: Rasmussen predicted the Republicans would gain 55 seats in the House, and would have 48 seats in the Senate
    Final: Republicans gained 63 seats in the House, and had 47 seats in the Senate.

  • Engineer

    I would suggest that the question should be framed about incremental regulations rather than all regulation. Thibaud makes good points about a ruthlessly unregulated society. I think Raymond R captures the spirit of the majority identified by Rasmussen. Current regulations are all too often seen as a way to get implement minority opinions that cannot get legislative support or a “bait and switch” where legislation passed gets manipulated by much narrower partisan interest to become rules that would not have withstood legislative scrutiny, e.g. Bart Stupak, birth control, and Obamacare. The sort of crony capitalism where lots of Obama contributors show up as recipients of stimulus cash or deep lobbyist pockets making sure lucrative carve-outs for things like ethanol or obscure tax write-offs also add to this spirit.

  • Engineer

    A different way of putting this is the notion that civilian audit of public good is being transformed into gorging at public expense (e.g. GSA parties) so the response is to pare government oversight to the minimum and drive down oversight to the lowest practical level of government. It’s sort of a “Laffer Curve” on the utility of government regulation. One reaches a point not only of diminishing returns for additional regulations but fiscal drag that harms the host society (e.g. new Labor Department regs that may outlaw farm chores for farm kids under 18).

  • Jim.


    The difference between Social Security that is solvent and Social Security which will bankrupt the country is about 25%. In other words, a cut of 25% would make Social Security last for generations. (And if we make it now, it will save us from printing trillions of dollars.) Medicare is solvent if we make somewhat deeper cuts / caps.

    Extend that to the regulatory state: let’s not abolish that state entirely, let’s trim down the number of regulations by 25% (or more).

    There’s a difference between an FDA that will prevent the excesses chronicled in The Jungle, and an FDA that forces companies to spend the money to quantify the calorie count of every item on their menu.

    Trimming down the number of laws on the books, and holding them to an efficient level, will hurt few apart from the trial lawyers’ guild. The economic benefit of such policies would be immense.

    We can get the best results by reducing the Blue Model to a sustainable level. Elimination of the Blue Model is unnecessary, and a straw man besides.

  • a nissen

    “Throughout the 20th century, the architects of the blue model viewed the government as a bulwark protecting the common man from economic and social forces too large for them to fight on their own.”

    That is most certainly what we get told in school. WRM’s twist is the blue model tag and its denigration. The truth is quite different in either case. It has to parts.

    The first part Raymond R at #4 correctly captures—the theory in practice is different—the various interests further and spar over their interests while making the minimum concessions necesssary to keep the myth alive. Obama’s gift continues to be talking up the myth like the dickens in the hope of keeping concessions at bay.

    The second part thibaud at #6 correctly captures in closing—”Wise capitalists know that effective, efficient markets need rule of law, clear rules, and effective enforcement of those rules by a strong regulatory state.”

    The real question is— are the days of this longstanding myth about the public good numbered or not?

  • Luke Lea

    “If this poll is at all accurate, the public is no longer on board.”

    Assuming the public knows anything about the subject. Why don’t we test that first?

  • Luke Lea

    I’m becoming a fan of thibaud’s.

  • Corlyss

    Regulation is almost always aimed at punishing someone successful for being too successful. I’m just sitting here waiting for DoJ to slap a restraint of trade suit on Apple for being so darned clever at producing things they then convince us we can’t live without. Wasn’t that how Ford put an end to horse-drawn buggies? Dems/Libs/Progs think there’s something fundamentally unfair and/or criminal about someone who is too successful. Because the average Joe didn’t come up with the idea, that hints at inequality of traits, and that’s a dangerous concept to Dems/Libs/Progs. If everyone wasn’t born the same, government’s job is to make ’em all the same. If government can’t make ’em all the same, then government can take A’s advantage away. (Insert ditty from Mikado here, “See How the Fates Their Gifts Allot.”)

  • Lorenz Gude

    Well if destroying the world economy is something that our regulators and legislators can be manipulated, bribed, and/or cajoled into making legal then it is quite understandable that some of us think government regulation may be beyond redemption. Yes, I am glad, thibaud, that my heart meds are manufactured to a more exacting standard than street heroin, but between Sarbains Oxley and Obamacare and the aforementioned destruction of the world economy it is pretty clear that the regulation process is profoundly corrupt.

  • Jim.

    @thibaud, Luke Lea:

    Do you believe that it is possible that our current regulation model is not the “efficient” one with “clear rules” that we need?

    Do you believe that eliminating the Departments of Education and Energy would be equivalent to extreme case of eliminating the FDA?

    Have you ever actually heard of any elected official, anyone in a mainstream party, advocating the elimination of the FDA?

    Do you believe that ObamaCare provides “clear rules”? Do you believe Sarbanes-Oxley provides “clear rules”? Based on their need to hire extra professional personnel (accountants, lawyers) to comply with SarbOx, do you suppose that companies agree with your assessment?

    Do you think that the Obama administration’s preferential treatment of unions (in contravention of established law) in the GM bailout helps, or hurts, the idea of “clear rules”?

    Do you believe that the voting public has any right to pass judgment over these “clear rules”?

    Do you believe that the regulations we have are “clear” (and brief) enough that the public could be expected to have reasonable knowledge of them?

    That’ll do for now.

  • thibaud

    @ Jim – I don’t disagree with much of what you say, but you’re ignoring the point. Clearly, we have some bad and unclear rules. Bad regulation is a bad thing, just as bloated, pork-ridden or corrupt military procurement is a bad thing, but it doesn’t in any way affect the core principle that democratic capitalism needs robust regulation in order to thrive. Bad regulations do not invalidate the need for strong regulations any more than bad policing or corrupt military procurement processes invalidate the need for a well-funded police or a strong and well-funded military.

    The confusion here seems to have originated from WRM’s strange characterization of regulation _IN GENERAL_ as fundamentally a con job, fraudulently proposing to “create a level playing field where the common worker can fairly compete with large institutions.”

    This is a severe distortion, on many levels.

    The main point of regulation is to preserve and strengthen the capitalist system overall. You could say that regulation saves capitalism from the capitalists.

    For a picture of capitalism without strong regulation, go to Russia, Ukraine, China etc and experience for yourself the orgy of asset-stripping, gangsterism, rampant theft and fraud, shareholder dilution, trouncing of consumers and despoiling of the air water public safety etc.

    The cost is more than dollars, or even lives: it destroys public faith in capitalism and strengthens the hand of anti-capitalist and anti-democratic forces. Paradoxically, it’s the weakness of the Russian regulatory apparatus that, more than anything else, sustains the appeal of the Communists.

    It’s also false to argue that regulation’s purpose is merely or even mainly to protect the little guy against the big boys.

    In many cases, the primary beneficiaries of regulation are large enterprises and big investors , ie those who need investment capital and those who wish to furnish it. Both parties need extensive and robust rules, clearly spelled out and enforced by a sovereign legal authority.

    As the Greeks are now learning, and as the Russians learned in the 1990s, a country without effective credit mechanisms and a robust, well-regulated banking system will suffer a dramatic shrinkage in economic activity.

    The third beneficiary of course is ordinary citizens of all types, be they powerful or not, for whom an advanced industrial society that lacks robust product safety, air and water pollution regulation, health codes and housing codes etc etc is one in which the health and safety risks become so high as to make it unwise to bear and raise children.

    Again, look to post-communist Russia and China today, where the lack of regulation has perpetuated the nightmarish pollution and public health debacle which communism established.

    This is why those nations’ wealthy individuals are so keen to get their children OUT of the country and over to heavily-regulated western jurisdictions where they can actually breathe the air, drink the water, eat the food, trust the prescription drugs etc etc. Yet again, it’s American parochialism that blinds us to the nightmares created by a weak, inept state that does not regulate adequately.

    I really think this debate would be greatly improved if the parties involved had greater experience of a greater variety of capitalist systems than our own. There is much we can learn from others – both what to emulate and what to avoid.

  • Anthony

    I love how this article was linked to by Darrel Issa when he continues to vote yes on bills that increase regulations.

  • Jim.


    Did you ever read Harrison Bergeron in high school? If you didn’t, read it now.

    This is what Obama’s talk of “fairness” and “equality” ends with.

    Anyway — I’ve traveled fairly extensively in Northern Europe, including the old East Germany and the countries that are often pointed to as exemplars of “modern” Blue Statehood.

    East Germany in 1990 was miserable — grimy, poor, and pathetic, with its awful food, miserable accommodations, Trabants and its ruined churches (WWII wreckage). This was all clear evidence that Communism — a government that regulates the economy — was miserable failure.

    But while West Germany (or Denmark, Sweden, Austria, etc) was better, they were in no way rivals to the prosperity of the United States. They are (or were) clearly materially better off than their Eastern counterparts, but their “prosperity” still had a certain ascetic quality to it that pointed to a lack of funding.

    Don’t get me wrong, these places had their old-world charm; but places with similar old-world charm in the United States would be promptly torn down to make way for modern buildings with the conveniences Americans expect from prosperous life.

    So no. I would not say that living in a state with a higher degree of regulation (not to mention their outrageous, regressive, family-destroying VAT) is of any benefit at all.

    My argument is that the United States, while it has some regulations that improve our lives, is also saddled with an immense, labyrinthine structure of State and Federal laws that are not only totally unnecessary, they are also critically harmful to the birth of new business and new prosperity.

    Obama wants to add more.

    Obama has pledged to cut these regulations; indeed, there is every indication that he made what he and the Democrats considered a Good Faith Effort to cut the regulations we have; however, if their goal was to actually reduce the burden (and page count) of regulation imposed upon US businesses and citizens, they have failed miserably.

    Could Romney and his sort of moderate Republicans do a better job? Certainly. Which is why WRM really needs to come out and endorse Romney.

    Only reduction to a price we can afford will save the Blue Model now.

  • thibaud

    @ Jim – fair enough, some good points about our “labyrinthine structure.” VAT is indeed regressive, but I think the hidden benefit is a higher savings rate and a society that’s less dependent on consumer consumption of unnecessary, in most cases Asian-made, junk we don’t need with money we don’t have.

    Maybe German consumption is too low, but US consumer consumption has been way in excess of US incomes for nearly a generation. That’s a major reason why our recession is so deep and prolonged. On the lower part of the social spectrum, their families are much stronger than ours, I think.

    Anyway, appreciate your comments and agree with many of your well-made points. Best,

  • Glen

    Only committed Blue partisans (like thibaud and Luke Lea) would suggest that the only alternative to top-down command and control regulation is anarchy.

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