There has been an ongoing debate for just about a century regarding the appropriate role of government in regulating business and finance, and the effect of such regulation on our national economy. In fact, this subject has been hotly contested since the days of Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Jackson, and then Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and it became the centerpiece of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

America has swung back and forth from the laissez-faire approach to business of the 1920s, to the redefinition of capitalism that was the New Deal, to the growth of the national bureaucratic and regulatory framework of the 1960s and 1970s, to “Morning in America” Reagan-era deregulation of business in the 1980s, to present-day demands for accountability and control over Wall Street, big banks, and the financial industry.

For a better understanding of the complexities of this issue, we think it is important to look at its history and evolution, particularly as we again debate the subject in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. This article looks at government regulation over the past 84 years and highlights the impact of various degrees of regulatory policy concerning business, with a focus on the more recent events that have brought us to the present-day debate.

First Fairfield Associates is providing this information as part its program for public education and civic outreach. We encourage our readers and colleagues to help us create a clear path to a future that entails competitive, fair, and just economic and regulatory policies as well as government regulation of business to maintain ethical, disciplined, socially responsible entrepreneurship and participatory capitalism. Civic education on this subject is essential for reaching a consensus on the public policies and new corporate culture needed to bridge the gap between those with financial means in this country and those without.

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