Keep the Casinos Open
by Clifford S. Asness, Ph.D.
Stepping back, nowadays the popular narrative is that this economic crisis was caused by Wall Street and derivatives. It was not. It was a real estate bubble caused by government, countless individual people, indeed Wall Street, and a bevy of other economic agents like mortgage and real estate brokers and a government-created oligopoly of underperforming rating agencies. Government was a prime culprit through the creation of disastrous GSEs, implementing politically correct social policy that warped the housing market, enacting land use restrictions in the bubble’s worst epicenters and, of course, promoting 20+ years of too-big-too-fail when it was not at all needed, including pursuing exceptionally easy monetary policy for years after the “dot com” bubble. Individuals contributed mightily through a get-rich-quick mentality (who doesn’t know somebody who quit a real job to flip houses?), over-spending, and short-sightedness. Financial firms of all types clearly pitched in as they tried to ride the bubble until it burst all over them.
Had Wall Street acted more soberly we would still have had a bubble (but maybe a smaller one, which I agree would’ve been better!). But had government not built a bonfire and thrown gasoline on it, I’m not sure we’d have had any problem at all. This can be argued in a circle forever and, admittedly, rational people can disagree how to apportion blame. But, to solely blame Wall Street, as has become the popular narrative, and use that as an excuse to bring yet more of the economy under the federal thumb, is sordid. Government is using a disaster it had a primary role in creating as cover for further takeovers in a cloud of class warfare and lies. That just sounds wrong to me
To review, government, including many of the same legislators who brought us Fannie Mae and took VIP loans from Countrywide, is pinning the full blame for this mess on Wall Street, and concluding we should give government much more power going forward. Its idea of reform is not to commit to ending too-big-to-fail, but to plan for it in perpetuity. Its idea of reform is to give government unspecified but exceptionally puissant abilities to prevent and to fix all problems in the future through bureaucrat-determined arbitrary taxes, open-ended takeover powers, and unprecedented resolution powers that ignore a century of well-developed bankruptcy law (making the corruption carried out in the Chrysler bankruptcy now the law of the land). I’ve exhausted even my ability to be sarcastic here. Please ridicule government amongst yourselves.