by Roy Harris

A Stronger, Not a Weaker, S.E.C.

Jul 19, 20112 mins

It's perfectly natural for Americans --- whether Republicans or Democrats --- to be concerned about government spending.

It’s perfectly natural for Americans — whether Republicans or Democrats — to be concerned about government spending.

Even among those who believe that federal stimulus spending has been insufficient to counter the recession — the plea of some liberals — it’s a matter of faith that any pumping up of the economy must be done wisely. And, of course, anyone who wants to tighten federal spending on general principles will always be looking carefully at the federal budget.

But as Jim Stewart notes in his latest New York Times “Common Sense” column, it’s crazy to think of the current drive to starve the S.E.C. budget as part of the “too much government spending” drive.

He points to a comment in a House Appropriations Committee report saying that with “the federal debt exceeding $14 trillion, the committee is committed to reducing the cost and size of government,” in part by cutting back the S.E.C.

But taxpayer dollars don’t fund the commission, he notes. Its work is paid for by those it regulates, as no one knows better than corporate finance executives.

Regulators must act carefully and judiciously, of course. But the scandals of recent years certainly illustrate beyond all doubt that we need a stronger watchdog, not a weaker one. Both individual investors and companies are victimized by the corporate abuses that the S.E.C. is charged with rooting out.

The shift to the Times of Jim Stewart, among America’s most respected business authors, also is worth noting, by the way. He formerly wrote his “Common Sense” column for the Wall Street Journal, where he had been one of the top reporters and editors in the pre-Rupert-Murdoch years — including a terrific stint as the editor in charge of its page one stories (including some of mine.)

The Journal is sure to miss him — especially at a time when it’s fielding so many other questions about its coverage, and its part in Murdoch’s media plans.

For the Times, Stewart already has become a terrific voice of reason.

The only thing I miss is the column’s erstwhile concentration on helping investors determine when to sell and when to buy. Stewart has an uncanny, useful, simple system. And it was some of the best-written investing advice around.

I hope he keeps that alive somewhere, in some form, while he takes on his wide range of other topics.