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The Moral Hazard of Bailouts

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Everyone is bailout crazy. Insurance companies, banks, investment banks, automakers… and more are lining up for their share. So far the aggregate total exceeds $1 Trillion, and the total is expected to continue to grow. To put that in perspective, that’s about $4,000 for every living human being in America. If you have a wife and three kids, congratulations- you just spent $20,000 on corporate welfare.

President Bush stated that he has put aside free market principles, in order to save the free market. That is at the very least a calumnious statement. Many of us find it flat out contemptible. I wasn’t looking at the TV when I heard the President’s statement, but were it not for the Texas drawl I would have sworn the senseless words were those of Harry Reid or Barney Frank or, heaven forbid, Obama himself. If he put aside free market principles, what principle was he using?

To many who are attuned to the doublespeak of government, it has the ring of autocracy. To make you safe we put you in danger. To make you independent we make you dependent. To save the free market we attack the free market.

Those who seek power have long adhered to the Hegelian dialectic. The basic idea is that in order to get your way, you create a problem and then propose a solution to the problem that incorporates what you want. It works sort of like this — A wife wants a new car, but her husband doesn’t want to spend the money. So she stops changing the oil and, pretty soon.. voila, a new car is necessary.

If you substitute Congress for wife…and taxpayer for husband…oh what the heck. Here's how it goes — Congress wants control of the economy, but we Americans like our capitalism and free markets, so Congress sets fire to the housing market (see Community Reinvestment Act), the fire spreads, and now businesses are begging Congress to take control. Ah, the heady days before Chuck Schumer tossed a metaphorical hand grenade into the lobby of IndyMac Bank.

Everyone is condemning profit and greed, ironically to the tremendous profit of the greedy. This has been the largest single transfer of wealth in history, and the recipients have, until recently, taken private planes to do their begging. Whole industries are retooling themselves to qualify for government handouts.

I know what happens when these companies seek profit. They give me decent customer service to get me to return. They spend money on research and development to create new products. They market their items and provide the grease for our “free” entertainment from television to radio to the internet.

The effect of companies engineering for profit are pretty self evident. We all benefit. Corporations have to please thousands or millions of us to make their beloved profit. There is a morality to capitalism in that those who can do the most with capital get more capital with which to do it. When you're on corporate welfare the only people you have to please are the ones that write the checks.

There are those who favor strong government control of commerce. Generally speaking these people see government control as an opportunity to impose a morality on others that they feel the free market has ignored. They see this as a bright new day. The Greening of America. The left sees our current economic trouble as an opportunity to impose their will on the rest of us. We should all be concerned about the moral hazard this poses.

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About Patrick Gibson

  • Excellent article, Patrick. I hope that people will read it and be prompted to think.


  • Aren’t the industrialists themselves, the CEOs of Ford and General Motors, at least equally guilty or double standard? If they were true to the principles of free market, shouldn’t they then take their licks rather than begging for handouts?

    You are portraying the free market system as though it had existed and operated in a neutral, corruption-free environment. Adam Smith himself, the presumed father and founder, had serious misgivings about the invisible hand left to itself as it were, without any controls.

  • Roger-

    I’m not 100% sure that I have your point correctly, so please feel free to correct me if I’m putting words in your mouth, but my take on your comment is that you feel there should be more government control/oversight/involvement in the markets.
    First allow me to point out that I have no problem with oversight. The issue is when those who are supposed to provide oversight don’t… like the Dems and mortgage lenders in general, FNMA and FRMC in particular.
    I wonder why people (like you, perhaps?) seem to think that the same people who at least exacerbated, if not caused, this entire mess, would suddenly develop some sense of responsibility or understanding of what they are supposed to be regulating.
    I am against government control because I am not a communist.
    Unfortunately, we the taxpayers are being ripped off with the full consent and blessings of the feckless morons in Washington like Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, and yes, John McCain.

  • I am not condoning the bailout – certainly not in the case of banks or AIG; these were the players and perpetrators of the crisis. I’m somewhat sentimental as regards the auto industry; we have practically invented the automobile and brought it to the masses. But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose. Still, we’re talking about industry leaders, and what makes you think that the average CEO departs very much from those characters? In what do you base your confidence?

    As to oversight, you don’t have to be a communist – and believe me, Patrick, I have just a great appreciation of America’s advantage in affording people a kind of freedom not available elsewhere – in order to see that there is a great need for it. So resorting to labels of any kind is not advancing neither your nor my cause one bit.

    “Pure” capitalism, free and unchecked, rampart and raw, is like a loose cannon. We’re seeing the results now in the financial meltdown and general lack of confidence in the West. All markets – and they’re all global now – are affected. I do not like to see the demise of the West. There’s too much at stake, individual liberty and freedom. These things are more important to me, and they signify more truly what America is all about, then anything else. So if we can preserve those values – even at the expense of curbing some of the greed and parasites intent on nothing else but making easy money – it’s a price I would be willing to pay. And so should you!

  • Roger-
    I don’t disagree with you that we need to preserve our way of life. To be clear let me state that if you read my comments more closely, I wasn’t labeling you at all. I will state it again- I am against government control because I am not a communist. I am against government activism because I am not a socialist.

    I think it’s ironic that many people who have either been pro-bailout or not vocally against it seem to have missed that those same greedy and incompetent CEO’s that deserve to be held accountable are escaping accountability through the bailouts!

    The only way these guys get held accountable is for their companies to reorganize in bankruptcy court. Giving them billions of taxpayer dollars only perpetuates the failure. I am uncomfortable with wagering my children’s future on the same business strategies and executives that led them to failure in the first place.

    The other concern that I have is that the biggest thieves IMO reside in Washington DC. They just took $4000 or so from every member of my family for the first tranch of bailout money. I specifically do not recall being asked my permission. How exactly is that different from theft?

    Bailouts = No accountability

  • Basically, we’re more in agreement, Patrick, that you may realize with the exception that terms like “communist” or “socialist” are obsolete by now, I think, and they’re no longer part of my vocabulary. All labels have a tendency to circumvent thinking.

    So we agree on bailouts. We also seem to agree on corruption at all levels of government. The marriage of Washington and Wall Street is indeed the most unholy alliance, an anathema.

    So what is the solution? To leave things as they are – without oversight – is unthinkable. We are in the situation of crisis – decision-making time if you go by the Greek definition; and, unfortunately, I see only two possible alternatives: supervision or none at all. Things cannot go on as they were, not even if we wanted to, for history is always on the march and has a way of righting itself. I’m afraid that we’re going to go through a “socialistic” phase, as you might put it – if only as a matter of a pendulum swing as it were, a kind of reaction.

    In any case, I do believe that merits of any economic system(s) should not be addressed in a vacuum as it were but only in the context of political and social institutions. It is that what I am most fearful of losing in the process – regardless of what exact form our free market economy will take in the immediate future. These institutions are most worth of preserving at all cost. They define what America is all about – more so perhaps than anything else.

    I am checking out for tonight and will look forward to your response tomorrow.

  • My friend,

    How can you call yourself an evil conservative, unless the evil part is that you are a closet liberal? President Bush stating “that he has put aside free market principles, in order to save the free market.” Somehow that sounds like “killing for peace,” or the ever popular “f**king for chastity,” you know, Nixonesque.

    I liked you piece, although I think your use of calumnous is understatement.

    With respect to the Big 3 et alia, they are taking their clues from (wait for it) Donald Trump.


  • Cindy D

    President Bush stated that he has put aside free market principles, in order to save the free market.

    What’s new?