A Carter appointee in 1977, ex-Securities and Exchange commissioner Karmel now professes such libertarian sentiments as "the commission should stop worrying about how to improve corpoate morality and social responsibility and start worrying about how to encourage the public to put dollars into savings and investment instead of consumption." And "the inability of many corporations to raise equity capital to retool in the decade-long bear market that began in 1969 was one factor in the continuing decline of United States productivity."
Authoritative, all right -- but hardly accurate. For one thing, the decade did not witness a wholly bear market. Many sectors (except for a few superannuated industries like steel or rubber) enjoyed spectacular bull markets (witness computers). For another, there's reasonable doubt among economists that savings necessarily lead to productivity. Besides, in that decade there was plenty of equity capital around; that certain businesses didn't want it or need it for retooling because they were operating well below plant capacity is not the fault of the capital market.
Nonetheless, in a lawyerly, point-by-point presentation, Karmel takes the SEC to task for discouraging capital formation by intruding on the rights and interests of the business sector while coddling the public. (But wasn't that exactly its mandate when it was formed in 1934?) "My own view," she says, "is that the SEC has gone much too far in protecting investors against risk. Securities investments are not equivalent to savings accounts." Tell that to the widows and orphans who do, in fact, trust their money to the common stocks of American corporations.
Though Karmel's lengthy brief hardly makes armchair reading, the well-documented arguments are provocative and worth attending, especially by about-to-go-public firms and their lawyers. Certainly there is room for the SEC to relax its attitude toward small business. And in the past couple of years -- partly due to the infighting of Karmel, who published no fewer than 18 dissents in 28 months as a commissioner -- there have indeed been some bones thrown to this sector.
Still, balancing her deploring the SEC's zealous enforcement of disclosure standards and market orderlines against the public's right not to be taken to the cleaners, one tends to agree with the critic who termed her Carter's "worst regultory appointment."