Are Americans More Laissez-Faire, After The Meltdown?

That's what a new Gallup survey suggests, finding that 45 percent of Americans, the highest reading in a decade, said there is too much "regulation of business and industry" when the polling agency asked them earlier this month, vs. 24 percent who say there's too little and 27 percent who say we have the right amount.

People also think the government is "trying to do too many things" these days, Gallup reports, as 57 percent, also the highest reading in a decade. Lest we take the latter nugget as a referendum on President Obama's domestic agenda and, in particular, health care reform--where polling suggests most people support the public option, the most aggressive proposal for government involvement currently on the table--let's remember that two things are prominently associated with government activity: the health care debate and financial bailouts. Those who oppose financial bailouts and those who oppose health reform have common ground on this question.

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But it's the regulation numbers that are more surprising. After the financial meltdown, the government responded--beginning with the bailouts under the Bush administration and continuing under the current one--by interjecting itself into the economy in a massive way.

Gallup interprets the public's reaction as such:

These actions, and the recognition that some failed businesses, particularly those in the investment banking sector, have previously operated without much government oversight, could in theory have caused an increased appreciation for governmental regulation. That has not occurred.

I wonder how conscious people are of overall business "regulation"--whether lots of respondents may have reacted based on what they've read about specific bailouts and the regulatory strings attached.

The numbers suggest that people think the post-crisis government interjection was too massive, though it may not necessarily reflect a newfound preference for pro-business capitalism after the meltdown. It could mean people don't think businesses deserved the attention the government gave them when things got tough, like the takeover of GM.

But the way the question's asked, that rationalization is less likely than Gallup's take. The 45 percent don't necessarily think regulation is bad a priori, but they're uncomfortable with the government's current interjection into the economy, even in response to the meltdown.