The most beloved capitalist in the world, Warren Buffett, has written another charming, thoughtful article in the New York Times.
And this one will make a lot of Americans furious.
Warren’s article is a “thank-you note” to our government, thanking them for the bailouts and emergency actions that Warren believes saved America from economic Armageddon two years ago. Although people will always criticise the details, Warren says, they can’t criticise the outcome, which was remarkable:
“Uncle Sam, you delivered. People will second-guess your specific decisions; you can always count on that. But just as there is a fog of war, there is a fog of panic — and, overall, your actions were remarkably effective.”
Warren makes a compelling case that, if the government had done nothing in the financial crisis, the financial system and economy might have collapsed, at least temporarily. And given that the system did NOT collapse, the government’s intervention certainly was better than doing nothing.
But most bailout critics don’t argue that the government should have sat around and done nothing. They argue that the government’s intervention should have been much more fair and effective, particularly with respect to Wall Street.
The only self-regulating measure capitalism has–and it’s an effective one–is the punishment of those who make mistakes. In a normal free market, when you sell lousy products, take stupid risks, or make dumb investments, you lose your money. And the fear of losing money encourages better decisions, which helps all of us.
By bailing out Wall Street–preserving equity value, preserving bonuses, subsidizing massive profits through artificially low interest rates–the government suspended this natural law of capitalism. In so doing, it rewarded the folks who had made the worst products and the dumbest decisions of all. And the country is NOT better for that.
Aaron Task and I discussed this on TechTicker this morning:
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