Thursday, April 5, 2012

Small government, big banks?

One reason I've never really come around to being a small-government conservative is my belief that if we put a tight leash on the feds, that will allow other large institutions--mostly big businesses, but not limited to that--to dominate me instead. Conservatives deploy the language of liberty pretty effectively, but often it's in the service of a corporatist agenda that would wouldn't necessarily feel "free" to most of us. I'm not so much sure that "big government" is as much of a problem as is bigness itself: Outsized institutions of any sort, public or private, can have outsized impacts on our lives.

So I'm intrigued by the question raised by my friend (and occasional nemesis) Steve Hayward over at Power Line. If conservatives want small government, he asks, should they also be in favor of breaking up the big banks? 
So I think I could be persuaded that the big banks should be broken up, though this requires conservatives and pro-market libertarians to set aside their cognitive dissonance over the use of centralized political power to accomplish such an end. Discuss in the comment thread.
Me? I think it's "pro-market" to actually let the market work: When banks get too big to fail, they put taxpayers on the hook for their risk-taking. You obviously can go too far in regulating the markets, but (ahem) you can also go too far in deregulating them, as well. Markets work best when they have some boundaries.

All of which has been said--including by me--a million times before. And there are plenty of other reasons I probably still won't take up the mantle of small-government conservatism: The issues that animate me seem to be ignored by or scoffed at by my conservative friends; even if liberals don't always have the right answers, I feel more comfortable with them because they're actually trying to solve the problems that look like problems to me. But small-government conservatism will be much harder for me to argue against if it doesn't leave me "liberated" to live under the tyranny of Citibank.

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