I was just imagining what would happen if the government decided that violence in film had a really pernicious effect on society. Congress would get to work on a bill and outlawed on-screen shooting deaths. But while they were working on the bill, the lobbyists from Hollywood came in and argued for limitations on the bill. And that’s only right. All people should be able to petition Congress for redress of grievances. And after two months, Congress had a new anti-violence in film law—with the help of the Hollywood lobbyists. It states that no one can be killed with a gun on screen if the bullet used is a 223 Rem. The sponsors of the bill would do a media tour. A few people on the left would complain that the bill is useless because it has a huge loophole (every gun that does not use 223 Rem bullets). Everyone on the right would complain that that freedom is over; dirges would be played. But the mainstream press would hail the bill as perhaps less than perfect but at least something good. Democracy!
A couple of years later, a few mainstream commentators would notice that the bill didn’t seem to do much good. All the filmmakers did was substitute SKSs for AR-15 because the SKS uses 7.62 rounds. It did have the effect of popularizing the SKS and hurt sales of the AR-15, but if anything there were more on screen shooting deaths in the movies. Few would go all the way and admit the obvious: that we don’t live in a democracy—that we live in a dictatorship of the corporation. But most people would know that was the case. It would be obvious. We all see films. We understand what it means for someone to die on screen by being shot.
That imagining may seem fanciful, but that is pretty much what we got with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill. After the banks helped to inflate a dangerous housing bubble and then almost destroyed themselves in the resulting fallout, we got a bill that was mostly cosmetic. What was most important was that we got a bill with so many loopholes and carve-outs that the finance industry has had little trouble doing exactly what they want to. Sure, there are some minor inconveniences on the order of having to use an SKS in a film when you really wanted an AR-15. But otherwise, it’s no big deal.
What’s interesting is that we got this law that was far less than the least one would have thought possible when the banking crisis was going on when the Democrats were in control. And that goes right along with my theory of modern American politics. The Democrats will in general not make things a lot worse, but they won’t do anything that makes things substantially better. In general, they will create bills that are hyper-complicated to both please their various constituencies (mollify the masses but don’t harm the elites) and to try to get the Republicans to support them—which they never do.
It is very likely that Congress would never enact such a stupid law regarding violence in film. It would be too clear to the people that it was nonsense. But when it comes to arcane matters like finance, they are free to do so. It’s not just that the people generally don’t understand this stuff—the people in Congress themselves don’t understand it. And so we get what we’ve come to expect of our elected officials: laws that look like they are doing something without, you know, really doing something. At least that’s the case when it comes to constraining the excesses of the power elite. Who knew when the song said “the land of the free” it wasn’t referring to us all?
There is one thing that Dodd-Frank has done for me: it has given my bank an excuse for getting rid of free checking.