Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Sometimes, mistakes have to hurt

A lot has been said about the state of the economy lately. I'm not an economist, so I've stayed fairly quiet on the subject. But today, I got an email in my inbox that I've got to share.

Today, much as in 1929, we face a situation where risk was allowed to grow out of control. In 1929, the market viciously corrected itself. Historical hindsight shows that the actions of our government exacerbated the problem, and lead to the Great Depression. (Although my parents, who grew up in it, never were able to discern what was so great about it.) In 2008, that necessary and painful correction is being stymied by our government. Will the actions of our government lead to a similar unintended consequence?

Paul Tustain writing for Whiskey and Gunpowder, believes that by bailing out those who took on the most risks, for example Bear Stearns, government is short circuiting the market mechanism that rewards caution and encouraging even worse risk-taking:

You simply cannot enjoy being the financial center of the world but start bleating for government bailout whenever asset prices dip a few percent. As Paulson is demonstrating, the regulatory price for being bailed out is far too high. We must all grow up and take a full measure of punishment. The banks must take theirs.

Let the shareholders and depositors take theirs too. Just like natural organisms, the financial system must have death to evolve into a better form. Of course, this sounds like a callous statement, but it may be the only way to avoid the moral hazard that Paulson is seemingly creating.

Paulson’s plan is a dressed-up confiscation of the profits of the cautious, and a transfer of those profits straight back to unreconstructed gamblers in the worst offending banks. This is very unwise. When will they learn their lesson? If reckless behavior is continually bailed out, when will we ever see a reversion to more risk-averse times? Sometimes a sound and safe bet is the correct one.

I've been think along the same lines, but I didn't have enough faith in my economic abilities to baldly make this statement. I feel more comfortable after reading this--I'm not alone in my thoughts.. And of course, I'm also a little more blunt than Mr. Tustain.

The Fed and the rest of the government is f'ing up. They need to let those corporate entities and individuals who made these ridiculous risk decisions suffer the consequences of them. Let those who borrowed 125% of the value of their house lose it. Let the banks who made "liars loans", where no proof of anything, including ability to repay, was required, shut the doors. Let the value of real estate, which has reached new heights of lunacy in many locals, fall to more reasonable levels. Please let the derivatives market, where wealth is created from vacuum, die the death it deserves. Sure, it's going to hurt--big time. But manipulating the market is simply going to delay the day of reckoning, and make the pain that much greater when the market will tolerate no more manipulation, and collapses rather than adjusts.

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