Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Deja vue?

Listed at ALD...

With those who yearn for "the old days" and the freedom of open markets is this little piece of history.
Fueled by easy credit, the real-estate market had been rising swiftly for some years. Members of Congress were determined to assure the continuation of that easy credit. Suddenly, the party came to a devastating halt. Defaults multiplied, banks began to fail. Soon the economic troubles spread beyond real estate. Depression stalked the land.

The year was 1836.

The nexus of excess speculation, political mischief, and financial disaster—the same tangle that led to our present economic crisis—has been long and deep. Its nature has changed over the years as Americans have endeavored, with varying success, to learn from the mistakes of the past. But it has always been there, and the commonalities from era to era are stark and stunning. Given the recurrence of these themes over the course of three centuries, there is every reason to believe that similar calamities will beset the system as long as human nature and human action play a role in the workings of markets.

Yes, Al, much of the cause can be sheeted home to "government interference". That as much as anything is my point.
The result was a credit crunch. Interest rates that had been at 7 percent a year rose to 2 and even 3 percent a month. Weaker, overextended banks began to fail. Bankruptcies spread. Even several state governments found they could not roll over their debts, forcing them into default. By April 1837, a month after Jackson left the presidency, the great New York diarist Philip Hone noted that “the immense fortunes which we heard so much about in the days of speculation have melted like the snows before an April sun.”

The longest depression in American history had set in. Recovery would not begin until 1843. In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, published that same year, Ebenezer Scrooge worries that a note payable to him in three days might be as worthless as “a mere United States security.”

All manner of good quotes -
Many people, especially liberal politicians, have blamed the disaster on the deregulation of the last 30 years. But they do so in order to avoid the blame’s falling where it should—squarely on their own shoulders. For the same politicians now loudly proclaiming that deregulation caused the problem are the ones who fought tooth and nail to prevent increased regulation of Fannie and Freddie—the source of so much political money, their mother’s milk.

Herbert Hoover famously remarked that “the trouble with capitalism is capitalists. They’re too greedy.” That is true. But another and equal trouble with capitalism is politicians. Like the rest of us, they are made of all-too-human clay and can be easily blinded to reality by naked self-interest, at a cost we are only now beginning to fathom.

1 comment:

Al said...

Why we let gladhanders run our countries is beyond me.