Thursday, October 09, 2008

Is the Bailout a Bust?

It is probably too early to say for sure, but the Stock Market continues to fall, unemployment continues to rise, and almost everyone I know is still more freaked than not. Here is Steve Chapman's take:

Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron suspects the latter. "The bailout approach will generate uncertainty about what's going to happen," he told me. "It's quite plausible that it has not calmed markets because no one knows what it means."

Instead of stimulating productive activity by removing doubt, it has impeded it by multiplying doubt. It has also encouraged lenders to hold off dealing with their bad debt in hopes of getting a better deal from the Treasury than they can dream of getting from anyone else. But postponing the banks' rendezvous with reality will not speed recovery.

The sheer size and unprecedented nature of the intervention generates a different kind of uncertainty—about how extensively the federal government will immerse itself in the economy from now on. The spectacle of Washington nationalizing private assets is bound to dishearten millions of investors who think that generally, the most helpful economic role for government is staying out of the way.

The rescue surrenders an important principle: that private sector mistakes should be borne by the people who make them. If the bailout means we may all get the bill anytime a company implodes, it will undermine the critical incentives of the market. In the long run, that will not strengthen the economy but weaken it.

I'll buy it.