Arnold Kling is dialing down his anger. I'm dialing mine up — or, rather, circumstances are dialing my anger up.
We can, and should, debate economic theory — for example, what is the value of aggregate concepts? to what extent do investors today take account of the likelihood of higher taxes or inflation tomorrow? does free trade reduce real wage rates? The list of debatable topics is long.
But at some point I cannot help but assert that, for me, ultimately the greatest value is individual liberty and not the efficacy of free markets.
So when I read articles such as this one from the Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein, my blood pressure (literally, alas) rises. Here's the most offensive passage:
Then there is Richard "Is This America?" Kovacevich, the chairman of
Wells Fargo. Late last week, Kovacevich gave a talk at Stanford
University, complaining about how unfair it is that the government
forced his bank to take $25 billion in bailout money last year when it
could have easily raised private capital — and then compounded that
outrage by changing the terms of the deal and forcing Wells to cut its
dividend. Kovacevich said it was "asinine" for the Treasury to order
his and other big banks to undergo a special "stress test," explaining
that well-run banks like Wells were routinely doing their own stress
Kovacevich apparently believes that because his bank is still
relatively healthy, he and his shareholders shouldn't have to assume
the same costs and burdens as banks that aren't, particularly when
those costs and burdens are imposed by incompetent government
officials. That's the way it works in America.
Except, of course, when it doesn't. The reality is that, if the
government had not stepped in to take over Fannie, Freddie and AIG; had
not recapitalized Citigroup and Bank of America; had not provided the
guarantees to allow for the orderly sale of Merrill Lynch and Bear
Stearns; had not become the buyer of last resort for commercial paper
and home mortgages, then the entire financial system would have melted
down by now and taken Well Fargo and its arrogant chairman with it.
Rather than bellyaching about how un-American it all is, Kovacevich
ought to be thanking the government and asking what more he could do to
The idea that private business persons are "arrogant" if they don't genuflect to the hypocritical and utterly immoral scumbags who work on Capitol Hill is outrageous. The idea that, if government forces a private firm to take taxpayer money, that firm should be grateful and should cooperate with the political theater that plays 24/7 in Washington sickens me beyond words.
And as I predicted here, the notion that only those firms that requested and received government help will be the ones who suffer detailed intrusions by government is naive. The obnoxious collectivism that permeates the "thinking" of persons such as Steven Pearlstein will press as far as it can to assert control over as many private choices as it can get its greedy and officious paws on.
The single greatest instance of intellectual foolishness today is the continuing pretense that politicians are serious people worthy of serious consideration. They are scoundrels, each and every one, regardless of party (although some of them, it is true, are more scoundrelly than others). For any scholar to pretend that these people are disinterested servants of the public welfare — to pretend that the words politicians utter or send out in press releases are meant to promote any goal other than politicians' own glorification and pursuit of power — is for that scholar to be duped to a degree that should be more embarrassing than would be the discovery that that scholar believes the earth to be flat or that Big Foot was in league with Lee Harvey Oswald to murder JFK.