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American Competitiveness: Too Many Rules?

A committee calls for changes to help the US compete internationally; critics say investor protections would suffer. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

Last week, a committee released proposals to make America's publicly traded companies more competitive. The Committee on Capital Markets Regulation says costly and complex rules hurt the position of the United States.

The committee is a private group of twenty-two leaders from areas including business, finance, law and accounting. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson praised the committee when it was announced in September.

Mister Paulson has recently warned of the danger to American competitiveness from, in his words, an "ever-expanding rulebook." He says the costs of rules must be considered against the benefits. He is expected to hold a conference on this issue next year.

Hal Scott of Harvard Law School is the committee director. He says the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of two thousand two has created needless costs, especially for smaller businesses.

Congress wrote the law after accountants failed to uncover financial crimes at several big companies. Some, like Enron and WorldCom, went out of business. Investors lost millions.

Sarbanes-Oxley created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. The law also holds business leaders legally responsible for their company's financial statements.

Among other things, the law requires public companies to report yearly on their financial reporting controls. The committee says this rule, in the first year, cost businesses an average of more than four million dollars.

But some say proposals by the committee would weaken shareholder protections. For example, the report calls for limits on the amount of money that investors could recover from companies involved in wrongdoing.

Former treasury secretary Lawrence Summers says the committee was too centered on the issue of competitiveness. And New York Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer says he will fight the proposals.

Still, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox wants his agency to reconsider some rules based on their costs.

The World Economic Forum this year rated the United States sixth in competitiveness, behind smaller countries like Finland and Switzerland. But it was first among the largest economies.

Yet the committee says only five percent of the value of the world's newly offered stock last year was raised in the United States. In two thousand, it was fifty percent.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Bob Doughty.