Barney Frank’s Cognitive Dissonance on Liberties and Risk-Taking

Congress will certainly be different and, for the country, better with the absence of Rep. Barney Frank, who announced today he will not seek reelection. Frank’s record on civil and constitutional liberties can best be described with a paraphrase of a nursery rhyme. On the rare times he was good, he was very, very good; but when he was bad — which was most of the time — he was horrid.

Frank is sharp and well-versed on the intricacies of arcane financial legislation and knows how to throw a good rhetorical barb. So on the few issues in which his views coincided with libertarian ones, he was a very good ally to have. I’m very happy he has seen through big retailers’ special pleading for price controls on what banks charge them for debit card processing. He fought against inclusion of the Durbin Amendment debit card price controls in the Dodd-Frank financial regulation overhaul and then fought for delaying the measure, correctly predicting that the costs of debit card processing would be transferred to consumers in new bank fees. Still, the Durbin Amendment would have never become law if he hadn’t rushed through the Dodd-Frank monstrosity with this and other ill-considered provisions.

My Competitive Enterprise Institute colleague Michelle Minton frequently praised Frank’s stance on Internet gambling. “Barney Frank’s outspoken position that American adults should be able to do in their own homes, with their own money, what they wish is laudable,” she stated in a news release in 2009.

But his stance in favor of individual autonomy in Internet gambling contrasts sharply with his support of restrictions on consumer and investor choice. He has fought against attempts, for instance, to allow investors to buy stock in companies that are free from the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting paperwork mandates. He has opposed Sarbox exemptions even for the smallest public companies. He never explained why individuals should be free to lose all their money on the Internet but not be able to take a chance on investing in a company that faces slightly less regulation.

And, alas, he also never made the distinction between gambling with one’s own money and with taxpayer dollars. His infamous 2003 statement on his desire for government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to “roll the dice” on affordable housing will mar his legacy, as will his successful effort to block any limits on the size of their portfolios before they imploded.

In the remainder of his term, my CEI colleagues and I look forward to working with Frank in the times he (hopefully) will be on the side of liberty, and fighting him if he continues to stand against individual choice.