For supporters of freedom and markets, the Year of Our Lord 2008 has been close to a disaster. As D:Ream used to sing, things can only get better, surely? Ah, if only...
This was the year that saw two Presidential candidates vying with each other to see who could make the most ridiculous statements on global warming and the financial system (it may be the less ridiculous won). It was a year when one bunch of free-spending economic know-nothings gained complete control of Congress over another bunch of free-spending economic know-nothings. This was the year the American polity compromised and became both stupid and evil.
2008 was a year when America lost its mind over energy. As energy prices spiked thanks to (as we now know) artificially inflated demand, politicians mostly discussed ways to make them higher still. No energy idea was too stupid for someone to be praised as a genius or visionary for proposing it. Oil companies fell over themselves to make adverts telling people not to use their main product. Congress told American car makers they weren't making the cars people wanted to buy, so they were going to make them do it or fine them into closure. Car makers responded by demanding money from the taxpayer. Congress agreed. The invisible hand was thereby nailed to a Congressional table. For one brief, shining moment, it looked like even this Congress would be forced to relax idiotic restrictions on oil exploration, but "Drill, baby, drill" was retired as the oil price collapsed and so we will have to go through the whole thing again on the next oil price spike, when we will be told it is too late to explore and drill (again).
This was the year when every energy-snake-oil salesman realized that "green jobs" was the magic phrase that unlocked taxpayer wallets. A vast army of careers in the compact-light-bulb-changing industry awaits America's youth. The progression from trainee light-bulb-changer to assistant-light-bulb-changer to certified-light-bulb-changer to lightbulb-changing-supervisor to lightbulb-changing-regional-manager to lightbulb-changing-firm-CEO to lightbulb-changing-Czar will tempt the most ambitious young people (even if most of the actual changing will be done by recent immigrants from Mexico). The 500,000 extra unemployed as a result of the "green jobs" scam will at least be able to pat themselves on the back that, by losing their jobs, they have reduced global emissions infinitesimally.
2008 was the year when the housing-market-of-cards erected on the shifting sands of decades of congressional and administration pressure to lend fell down spectacularly. The market that had reacted to government signals got all the blame, when it only deserved some of it. The guilty parties in Washington not only got away scott free, but are now writing the rules for another iteration of the manifestly-failed Mixed Economy. As for a free market in finance, that has been completely ruled out even though it's never actually been tried.
This Annus Horribilis also saw the rise of Bailout Nation. With asset values collapsed, the investors who had speculated and lost knew they had one way to keep their pockets full - by getting their cronies in the Administration and Congress to take money out of the pockets of taxpayers and give it to them. A Congress full of people supposedly friendly to the middle class agreed. Trebles and bonuses all round! With Wall Street the most despised thoroughfare in America, one Wall Street Panhandler masquerading as a Treasury Secretary is to be replaced by another. That's change I can believe in.
In my native Britain, the 55th year of the Queen's reign saw the Conservative Party reap the rewards of acquiescing to New Labour's mixed-economy economic policy. When British banks collapsed, and a sterling crisis deepened the trouble, they were left with nothing to say. Gordon Brown, the man who promised he had put an end to "boom and bust," blamed the bust that followed his housing boom on America and Margaret Thatcher and thereby managed to improve his opinion poll rating to the level where people were speculating he might call a General Election. The British voter, after all, knows he is a safe pair of hands with the economy. At least some over there, however, know what the real story is.
As 2008 draws to a close it has proven to be the coldest year in a decade and it seems that tropospheric temperatures are beginning a downward cycle again. Never, however, has the political establishment been so united in deciding that urgent action is needed to save us from ever-rising temperatures.
2008, you were a rotten year. No-one likes you. Go away!