I used to be against the bailouts. I thought that if financial firms get the benefits of taking risk, then they should get the malefits too.Then I was persuaded that this was merely Schadenfreude, and that for the greater good of us all it was better not to punish a few people at the cost of destroying the entire system.
Now, I wonder. I’ve heard people say that market impact of trading is the same in the end, whether you trade slowly or quickly. Perhaps there’s some principle of invariance that says the end result will be the same no matter how you get there.
In that case, are markets now undergoing death by a thousand cuts? The S&P has slowly worked its weary way to the 800s. Maybe it would have dropped no lower if the government hadn’t bailed out so many financial firms and simply let the market go after the Lehman collapse.
On January 9 The Wall Street Journal compared the desperate bailouts to Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”. When I first read Ayn Rand in 1960s South Africa, as I wrote a few months ago, I thought she was a left-winger. South Africa was a right-wing apartheid state that deprived all blacks and liberal whites of their individual liberty, and so when Ayn Rand glorified individualism, I assumed she had to be left. In the distorted politics of South Africa the extreme left and extreme right converged to the same point.
Now more and more of the former role models of private enterprise and capitalism are begging for government intervention. Since socialism and objectivism are beginning to seem equally plausible solutions to the problem, it’s clear no one knows what to do.
Except the man in the purple booth, whose reassuring message about how to find him is everywhere.
Originally published at Wilmott.com and reproduced here with the author’s permission.