A Man, a Plan, a Canard

"Bart Naylor" "Financial policy reform"House Republicans claim that banks’ efforts to comply with Wall-Street-reform paperwork will require more labor than it took to dig the Panama Canal. They’re way wrong.

Wall Street’s Washington surrogates in Congress are attacking the Dodd-Frank reform law by claiming that bankers who are buried in new rules can’t make loans. Currently, House financial services committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) dramatizes the problem: “It will take companies 20 million work hours each year to comply with just the first 224 of these 400 new rules – a figure that is especially staggering when one considers it took 20 million hours to build the Panama Canal.”

Yowza! The Panama Canal! A path between the seas, uniting Atlantic and Pacific, revolutionizing commerce, one of the greatest accomplishments in human history. That labor involved a nine-year French effort, ending in 1890, then a 10-year, US-led effort ending in 1914. At its peak, the work force numbered some 44,000.

Wait a minute: 20 million hours? A typical American works about 2,000 hours a year (40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year). Applying these relatively civilized hours to the peak employment year of 44,000 generates 88 million hours. That’s four times the Bachus number — for just one year out of the two-decade construction effort. (Given the relative dearth of labor laws at the turn of the 20th Century, it’s worth questioning whether canal laborers really went home each day after eight hours.)

As the famous palindrome goes: a man, a plan, a canal — Panama? More like a canard. More