Robert Reich asks and answers the question “Which do you trust less – Big Business (including Wall Street) or Big Government?”:
But fundamentally, the debate is absurd.
It’s not the purpose of the private sector to protect the public. Companies like Goldman Sachs, Massey Energy, WellPoint, and BP will do everything they can to make money. They owe allegiance to their shareholders. Hopefully along the way they also make great products and provide terrific services. If the market is competitive, both consumers and investors gain.
The purpose of government is to protect and enhance the well-being of Americans. Its job is to protect the public from corporate excesses — enacting laws that bar certain actions that may hurt or endanger the public, and fully enforcing those laws.
We get into trouble when the two sets of responsibilities are confused – when big business and Wall Street spend vast amounts of money trying to influence government, and when government officials (including the officials of regulatory agencies) pull their punches because they’re aiming for lucrative jobs in the private sector.
The real challenge of our time has nothing to do with whether one trusts Big Business and Wall Street more or less than Big Government. The challenge is to keep the two apart, each focused on what they’re supposed to be doing. (That’s why, for example, I still think it unwise to have BP run the operation to plug the hole in the bottom of the Gulf.)