Friday, October 31, 2008

Politicians get relevancy, we get a bloody mess

Our Tennessee members of Congress who voted for the bailout may actually believe they can make these god-like decisions about our lives. However, my best guess is that privately they will admit to being as clueless as we suspect.


A recession is coming (or has already arrived) no matter what happens in Washington. The question is whether the attempt to forestall it is going to make it worse and turn it into another Great Depression.

By acting without rhyme or reason, politicians have destroyed the rules of the game. There is no reason to invest, no reason to take risk, no reason to be prudent, no reason to look for buyers if your firm is failing. Everything is up in the air and as a result, the only prudent policy is to wait and see what the government will do next. The frenetic efforts of FDR had the same impact: Net investment was negative through much of the 1930s.

The next administration is unlikely to do any better. Mr. Bernanke is perhaps the greatest living authority on the Great Depression, yet he has failed to stem the damage. Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke are confronted with a sick patient. They have antibiotics. They have a scalpel. But is there any evidence from the last seven months that they understand the underlying cause of the illness, or how to cure it?

Worst of all are the political incentives that are unleashed when Washington promises to spend a trillion dollars (and counting). No one can spend such money wisely even if they want to. The information about who needs to be bailed out and who needs to fail is too complicated. Inevitably, such decisions will begin to be more about politics than economics.