What do you do when a financial behemoth implodes?
What can you say about free market capitalism when the world’s leading liberal democracy dumps nearly a trillion dollars in private debt onto taxpayers? Are Freddie Mac and Fannie May along with Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG totally unforeseen victims of systemic once in a lifetime financial meltdowns or are they not really victims of their own greed? When you allow the “mushrooming of weapons of financial mass destruction,” to borrow a phrase from Warren Buffet then isn’t it written that you shall reap what you sow?
The question is who should pay the price of Wall Street’s excesses. I learned in Economics 101 that those who live by the market must also die by the market. But with this gargantuan bailout it looks like the only thing that is dead is raw capitalism. Not that I’m complaining or that I ever subscribed to this thing called a totally free market. Some will recall that in my address in Bangkok last year I repeated my mantra that the free market is well and good but Adam Smith’s invisible hand may sometimes continue to be invisible if not altogether paralysed when the time for action draws nigh. Sometimes as it is in times like these, Uncle Sam’s hand may prove to be far quicker on the draw. Otherwise spontaneous order may well turn out to be spontaneous chaos.
Hayek is history, so they claimed.
Speaking of history, it would appear that the powers that be have learned some lessons. We know what happened in the 1930s when, adhering strictly to free market principles, the Federal Reserve folded its arms and did absolutely nothing even as the financial system was cracking under the weight of massive defaults that eventually caused the collapse of the American economy and the contagion spread to Europe. There would have been lessons learned too from the October 87 crash, and the savings and loans scandal. Then of course, there was the 1997 Asian financial crisis.