Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Balleisen, Fraud

Fraud is endemic to capitalism. But to what extent should commercial and financial transactions be regulated to minimize its damage to society? Should the government try to protect investors and consumers through antifraud regulation or should caveat emptor rule the day?

In Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff (Princeton University Press, 2017) Edward J. Balleisen explores regulatory cycles in the United States and how they affected business culture and society at large. In the process, he recalls some of the country’s most notorious scams and scammers.

Balleisen recognizes the difficult balancing act required to get regulation “just right,” neither too heavy-handed nor too light-handed. Regulators must understand, for instance, “the trade-offs between facilitating innovation and curbing deceit.” In the end, however, he believes that “inventive governance can stay abreast of all the new twists on old games, shut down the worst frauds, fortify consumers and investors against imposition, and sustain, at reasonable cost, the social trust necessary for modern capitalism.”

Since we may well be shifting to a new cycle, characterized by a lighter government hand, Balleisen’s book is especially timely.

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