What Are Markets For?

There are all sorts of people today who normally talk about free markets but who have got themselves into a tizzy over the failed bailout. We need to get one thing straight – the bailout was the wrong answer to the wrong question. To begin with, the plan was merely postponing the inevitable, as a letter in the Wall Street Journal pointed out this morning:

The lesson of past financial inflection points is that we must let the markets reallocate capital from less efficient to more efficient uses. The sad fact is that we need to go through a brutal process of resizing down our financial and real-estate industries. Actions to try to recapitalize doomed financial companies only postpone the day of reckoning, which will make matters worse as the Japanese learned in the 1990s.

Secondly, we have to ask how to protect future viable assets and investments, not just what we should do about past failed assets and investments. The bailout plan is exactly the wrong approach. It puts in them in jeopardy because not only does it tread down the policy road that led to the Great Depression, as Martin Hutchinson powerfully argues, but because real capitalism provides strict disciplines that actually provide better protection than government regulation. We will not succeed in protecting our children from a future financial meltdown if we merely put in place the exact parameters for it to happen again.

Markets are all about the efficient allocation of capital. As has been demonstrated on this page repeatedly, government caused the market to misallocate badly. If we go further and have government misallocate the capital by design, then we will have made one of the biggest missteps in economic history, worse than FDR and co, because we will have completely ignored the lessons of the great depression. A market correction is, in a very real sense, necessary. Government cannot bring that about.