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Archive for May 15th, 2011

Let’s start with a giant disclaimer that the head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is accused of forcibly sodomizing a hotel maid and we have no idea whether it’s true. There are even rumors that this is a plot hatched by Nikolas Sarkozy to cripple a potential rival in advance of next year’s French presidential election.

I suppose I could make a comment here about the arrogance of the political class and their view that they’re above the law.

But I’m such a fiscal policy dork that I’m especially outraged by the fact that Mr. Strauss-Kahn gets a gigantic tax-free salary. And then, to add insult to injury, he was staying in a hotel room that costs $3,000 per night!

I rapped Congressman Ron Paul across the knuckles for his disapproval of the Osama bin Laden raid, but I give him kudos for drawing the right conclusion about this sordid story. Here are some excerpts from a Fox News report.

The 2008 Republican presidential candidate told “Fox News Sunday” that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was pulled off an Air France flight moments before take-off from New York Saturday and arrested on charges of a criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment, said the whole course of events “is a bit ironic.” Paul, who makes no secret about his disgust of IMF policies, said Strauss-Kahn demonstrates why the Fund has problems. “These are the kind of people that are running the IMF and we want to turn the world finances and the control of the money supply to them,” Paul said. “That should awaken everybody to the fact that they ought to look into the IMF and find out why we shouldn’t be sacrificing more sovereignty to an organization like that and an individual like he was.”

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Here are two superb articles on the financial crisis.

First, from Peter Wallison at the American Enterprise Institute, we have a piece on the role of government housing subsidies. Since he warned, in advance, that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were ticking time bombs, Peter has great credibility on these issues. Here is his key argument, but read the article to see how bad government policy lured people into making dumb choices.

…the financial crisis would not have occurred if government housing policies had not fostered the creation of an unprecedented number of subprime and otherwise risky loans immediately before the financial crisis began.

Second, there’s an article from Roger Lowenstein at Bloomberg that examines why so few Wall Street bigwigs were prosecuted. Here’s his basic premise, but read the entire article to learn how Wall Street executives may have been greedy SOBs, but that’s true when they make money or lose money. What matters, from a legal perspective, is whether someone committed fraud, theft, or some other crime.

…these sentiments imply that the financial crisis was caused by fraud; that people who take big risks should be subject to a criminal investigation; that executives of large financial firms should be criminal suspects after a crash; that public revulsion indicates likely culpability; that it is inconceivable (to Madoff, anyway) that people could lose so much money absent a conspiracy; and that Wall Street bears collective guilt for which a large part of it should be incarcerated. These assumptions do violence to our system of justice and hinder our understanding of the crisis. The claim that it was “caused by financial fraud” is debatable, but the weight of the evidence is strongly against it.

The only thing I will add is that failure is an integral part of a free market system. When critics say that the financial crisis proves that markets don’t work, they obviously don’t understand that capitalism is a process that continuously provides feedback in the form of profits and losses.

So the fact the people and businesses sometimes lose money is to be expected (indeed, capitalism without bankruptcy is like religion without hell). From a public policy perspective, though, it’s important that people are not encouraged to make dumb decisions with government subsidies – or shielded from the consequences of those poor choices with bailouts.

And that’s why government intervention deserves the overwhelming share of the blame for the financial crisis.

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