Saturday, May 23, 2009

On Libertarianism, Part 2

Pragmaticus argues for more federal regulation of the economy because, he concludes, people are too irresponsible to self-regulate. He gives Barry Madoff, predatory lenders, people who borrowed beyond their means, and CEOs with golden parachutes as examples. Publius responds:

As far as regulation goes, I have never argued that there shouldn't be any. In fact, I have been quite clear that government has an important regulatory role to play and I was quite specific about what I thought it should be ( Madoff violated EXISTING laws and regulations, did he not? In the housing crisis, federal regulators BLOCKED state efforts to curtail subprime lending ( The Fed was irresponsibly slashing interest rates to below the inflation rate. So you can put faith in regulators, but quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (who will guard the guards? or in this case, who will regulate the regulators?). I agree that people will act irrationally, but the way markets work is that people who make irrational or unwise decisions pay a price and learn and the markets correct. Most of the time, just the individuals involved pay the price - but when government acts irresponsibly, as Fannie, Freddie, and the Fed did; we all pay the price. What you can't do, if markets are going to work, is remove what is called moral hazard (or as Newt Gingrich said, you can't have capitalism on the way up and socialism on way down). Yet, what are we doing? All these people did act irresponsibly - some at the prodding of the feds, many others not - and we are bailing them out! How can a market self-regulate if no one pays the price for their bad decisions? It can't, it's the loss that corrects the market. What will these bailouts accomplish? Not much other than delay a market correction that still has to happen eventually.

Finally, I can't believe any rational person would look at the behaviour of Wall Street, and the bankers, and the house poor borrowers and conclude that the solution to irresponsible financial behaviour is regulation by a government that acts even MORE irresponsibly. It is laughable to call Madoff the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time. The United States Federal Government is the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time. Since World War II, with a a few anomalous years under Nixon and Clinton (interestingly both times when control of government was divided between the two parties), our government has done nothing but spend, and spend, and spend, and amass debt that it never intends to repay (and probably never can). Yet, investors, particularly foreign ones, continue to finance it by buying our bonds - why? Because the government has a continually renewing source of revenue - the annual income tax - which brings in the new money each year to pay the interest on those bonds, making them still a good investment even though the principle cannot be repaid. That is exactly how Ponzi schemes work - the revenue collected from new investors is used to pay the profits of the old ones and it can continue ad infinitum as long as their is a stream of new investors. Madoff got caught because no one wanted to invest anymore when the economy went south. Well, when you have taxpayers instead of investors it can and will go on and on until it finally reaches the day of reckoning - when interest on the debt commands such large share of the federal budget that the tax revenue can no longer pay it and all the entitlement spending we have committed ourselves to (Medicare, Social Security, Medicare Rx, and soon national health care). You think the solution to Madoffs in the marketplace is these Ubermadoffs in Washington? This new irresponsibility knows no partisanship - both parties do it - and the current administration seems poised to do it bigger and grander than anyone. It simply has to stop. Our long term survival as the most prosperous country on the planet depends on it. I am not sure government can get smaller, but it at the very least NEEDS to stop growing. The irresponsible in the private sector are a fraction of the population (albeit probably a majority). The irresponsible in Washington are everyone - except Ron Paul, and sometimes John McCain.

What about the federal government gives you such confidence? The stellar way it manages Amtrak (which is far more expensive than flying, which the feds don't manage)? The stellar way it delivers the mail (which Fed Ex, DHL, and UPS do better but are prevented by law from delivering letters and may only deliver packages)? The stellar success of the ethanol industry - a government created, subsidized, and protected industry that continues to lose money? The fantastic job the government has done managing the war in Iraq or the aftermath of Katrina? The way the Fed devalued the dollar with low interest rates? In what way has the federal government inspired your confidence that increasing it's control over business and industry would be successful, or even better? Its success rate when it has tried is abysmal.

No comments: