Paul Greenberg

"Simplify, simplify, simplify!"

--Henry David Thoreau, "Walden"

If there were a single guide to all the policies foreign and domestic of our present administration, it would be: "Complicate, complicate, complicate!"

That goes for everything from how best to appease Iran's mullahs to Obamacare. If there's a way to complicate a policy, our president is sure to find it. If he ever does say anything simple -- for example, "If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan" -- it doesn't take him long before he'll find a way to deny, obfuscate, retract and/or generally muddle it. Preferably with the help of a whole new army of lawyers, regulators, bureaucrats, party hacks, PR types and "navigators" to make matters even more complex.

Here's the latest example. It's called the Volcker Rule, named after the long-time public servant who set out to restore the old wall between commercial and investment banking, that is, between the kind of bank that'll lend you money to buy a house or car of start a business, and the kind of bank that may engage in large-scale speculation. And not just with the bank's own federally insured money, but its depositors.'

There was a time, a long time, when that kind of thing was simply against the law -- a law passed in the early days of the New Deal, when the country was in the depths of the Great Depression and well aware of what that kind of "banking" had led to.

The New Deal was overflowing with ideas in its First Hundred Days -- both good and bad, sensible and awful. Its history is a whole Alexandrian library of what works and what doesn't in an economy fighting to recover. From federal deposit insurance, which still works well if it isn't abused, to the Resettlement Administration, which never did. (Any collectivist dream for American agriculture is doomed from conception, American farmers being American farmers.) The New Deal inaugurated both Social Security, which still works smoothly with only a course correction from time to time, and the National Recovery Administration, a voluminous wage-and-price-fixing scheme that only made a terrible economy worse.

But all these volumes of experience on history's shelves grew dusty over time -- as unconsulted and unemployed as so many Americans were during the late and still lingering Great Recession. One of the New Deal's better and clearer reforms was a now antique piece of legislation called the Glass-Steagall Act. It stood for more than six decades against the kind of slicksters who are always thinking up new ways to gamble with other people's money.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.