An I Don't Know About You column by Cal Teeple

 I recall in the early 1980s there was a movement afoot to “improve service(s) and lower costs” for consumers. “De-Regulation” to the rescue!

 I remember when it happened in banking because I was employed at a small town savings and loan. We made home loans at fair rates to anyone qualified. And at a slight discount compared to what the banks charged. We were also allowed (by regulations) to offer customers a quarter percent more for their savings dollars than the banks were allowed to pay. By regulation, taking in peoples savings and lending it out on homes was all we were allowed to do. The “big boys” at the commercial banks took care of all the other kinds of lending.

 That had worked pretty well for home buyers since the mid-1880s when the first “building & loans” were chartered. If you’ve ever watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart as the beleagured young executive at his fathers building & loan company, you’ve seen a pretty fair picture of how it worked those first hundred years or so. Life and business was quaintly simple.

 De-regulation changed all that! Along came a bunch of smart (?) young MBAs (and their converts in congress) who invented this panacea called “de-regulation”.
 The “savings & loan debacle” as it was called followed closely in the late 1980s. An argument can be made that it was a direct result of “de-regulation” at work. Look closely at the newspaper headlines today. Thanks to those smart folks de-regulatin’ the industry, we continue have ever better service and lower costs in our (stronger, healthier) housing and banking sectors!

 This “de-regulating” was so inspirational among those smart MBAs and their helpers in congress! Before you could say, “Hey Joe, can I borrow a dime for a cuppa coffee?” they got together and began to “improve life” for Americans in all kinds of ways! Industries that had existed for decades (doing a fairly good job) were targeted for reform (read, “de-regulation”).

Telephone service which had spread rapidly reaching nearly all the homes in the country (at fairly reasonable cost) was seen as a “monopoly”. So old Ma Bell (AT&T) was forced by (de-)regulators to break up. Competition was the name of the game. Service and pricing cuts would spread and costs for the “consumer” would drop dramatically, they posited! And so it has?

Trucking companies were too large! Monopolizing the roads and shipping business. Costing the poor consumer too much. (Actually known only as customers or buyers back then, “consumers” hadn’t been born yet). And golly, we customers weren’t even aware we were paying too much at the time? Lucky we had our helpful congress and those hot-shot MBAs to discover this problem and remedy it for us! Surely you’ve noticed the improved trucking (and railroad) industries?

 Hey! they were on a roll, lookin’ out for us. So they rolled on over to the airports. Here again poor innocent customers were being denied great service and lower prices? De-regulatin’ would surely save us!

 Curiously, up until the de-regulators saved us, it had been a pretty simple process to make a reservation, go to the airport (five minutes early), board a (usually new) airplane and fly happily away. Drinks, snacks, meals, magazines, (and a smile) were all free. Who knew how badly we were being served and over-charged by those greedy (not bankrupt) airlines?! Coffee, tea, or me, flying was a pleasure. Lucky thing we had those congressional watchdogs lookin’ out for us!

 Among the myriad industries ripping off all us poor, defenseless customers were the insurance companies. Nothing a little pro-active, “protective” de-regulatin’ couldn’t help. So our protectors jumped in to fix that too? Somehow, the “de-regulators” decided letting those companies in on the banking~lending world would be a surefire way to help out the American consumer! Who knew?!

 And thankfully the lawyers and drug companies were granted the right (thanks to de-regulation fever) to freely advertise their wares a few years back. Wouldn’t want to see these worthy groups denied the opportunity to offer us consumers better service and lower costs!

 Customers have been getting “consumed” ever since de-regulation became de rigueur. Maybe that’s why the word “consumer” entered the lexicon? After all, whenever the government gets involved, words take on new (reversed) meanings. Laws “lowering” taxes cost you more. Consumer “protection laws” hurt you. Laws to “stop rising cable costs” inevitably lead to higher cable costs. Noticing a pattern here?
 I don’t know about you..., I think if they just keep on, “de-regulatin’ everything”, they might just “save” us yet?

Cal Teeple, founder of the Observational Cogitation Consortium is often found three stools down from you. He may be ignored, accosted or contacted at: OR on our New Website at: