Spotlight Q&A: John Stossel

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John Stossel, a libertarian broadcast journalist, on too much government

John Stossel began his journalism career as a business-bashing consumer reporter who continually called for more government regulation. But when he saw regulation fail, he woke up and reported the positive things that free markets generate: prosperity, innovation, choice and individual freedom.

Today, Stossel, best known as a former co-anchor of ABC’s primetime newsmagazine show “20/20,” is the host of “Stossel,” a weekly Fox Business network program that covers consumer issues from a libertarian viewpoint. His shows have covered global warming, the “food police,” licensing rules, the health care business, lawsuit abuse, income inequality and “entrepreneurs under attack.” He is also the author of “No, They Can’t! Why Government Fails but Individuals Succeed.”

Independent Banker briefly talked with him before Community Banking LIVE 2016, where he is a scheduled general session speaker, to capture a few of his thoughts on government and business.

IB: You’re a self-described libertarian. So you believe in the power of free markets?

Stossel: Yes. Absolutely.

IB: Why is that?

Stossel: Because I’ve watched them create prosperity. Hong Kong in 50 years went from third-world to first-world because they had free markets. Still do, relative to us.

IB: What’s your message to community bankers at ICBA’s convention?

Stossel: That they should celebrate the good things they do for people, and explain how their work enables prosperity. And they should complain about all the rules from the state that torture them, and make it more difficult for them to compete with big banks.

IB: Should community bankers to do more to tell their story in Washington?

Stossel: Well, to be honest, I haven’t yet researched the field, and I won’t do that until a couple of days before I speak. So, I don’t know that they haven’t done a good job. But I certainly haven’t heard of it. It would be a difficult job to do, because banking is boring to people. It’s hard to explain.

IB: Do you think entrepreneurs are under attack in general? Do you think the American economic dream is in peril?

Stossel: Yes, yes.

IB: Why so?

Stossel: Because there are always more rules.

IB: What can community bankers do about overregulation, you say complain about it?

Stossel: Yes, passionate people should participate in the public debate.

IB: Is speaking out passionately and accurately effective in Washington?

Stossel: Yes. Though they shouldn’t have to go to Washington. If government were smaller, they could just do their business and the market would replace the regulators, and the banks that had a bad reputation would be well-known and would shrivel, and maybe get sued for ripping people off. And the good banks who serve their customers well would profit.

IB: What’s your take on too-big-to-fail?

Stossel: Everything should be allowed to fail. The taxpayers’ money should not be spent to prop anybody up, except FDIC [deposit insurance], since that’s already been promised up to $250,000 per savings account.

IB: What’s your take on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act?

Stossel: Actually, it was supposed to fix things with more paper. Dodd-Frank is just more centralizing of risk—which is the worst thing we can do—and more layers of regulation that will stifle growth.

IB: Would you say the law is driving further financial concentration?

Stossel: I didn’t say that. Let me think about it. Driving financial—it may. If the banks view it as too-big-to-fail, it can get cheaper deals, because everybody assumes they won’t be allowed to fail. And they will grow into giant, dangerous monsters.

IB: You’re bio calls you a “hard-hitting” reporter “offering the tough truth.” What was one of the most hard-hitting questions you can recall asking as a reporter?

Stossel: I can’t pick one out.

IB: Have you ever been spat on by someone you interviewed?

Stossel: No, but I got beaten up by a wrestler once. A professional wrestler, merely for pointing out that pro wrestling is fake.

IB: He actually beat you up?

Stossel: You can watch it on YouTube.

IB: What’s the toughest truth you’ve ever told as a commentator? One that you thought you might get beaten up for?

Stossel: I often say to people, “Why are you such a crook?” In the old days, people used to take people’s property with thugs and send thugs in to beat people up. But now you partner with your cronies in government. You use eminent domain to take people’s property. That’s the example, I guess, of hard-hitting questions.

IB: What’s the most overlooked national story in Washington?

Stossel: I would name two. And then you must have enough material, by now? How long is this interview going be?

IB: That was actually my last question.

Stossel: Well, good then. So to me, two things, and they’re big stories. They are the debt—the entitlement crisis is going make us bankrupt—and the Fed having zero interest rates buzzing God knows what kind of distortions?

IB: Appreciate your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Stossel: OK, bye-bye.