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What’s worse than an apocalypse?

Posted By Russ Roberts On December 7, 2011 @ 12:02 am In Crony Capitalism,Financial Markets,Uncategorized | Comments Disabled

On my exercise bike at the gym the other day, I caught a snippet of the Stuart Varney Show. Three guests were discussing the European crisis. John Stossel argued for letting market forces work–if I remember correctly, he wanted those banks that had lent money to Greece and Italy and Spain to bear costs, possibly severe costs like losing their money. One of the guests (I don’t know who it was) strongly disagreed. His argument was that Stossel’s solution would lead to the apocalypse. That was his argument. We risked the end of civilization–banks could go broke leading to a depression and then we’d all be worse off. Varney agreed. Stossel’s idea of market discipline was simply too dangerous.

Stossel gave a good answer. He said but what if we get the apocalypse anyway? Maybe all we’re doing is kicking the can down the road and making the reckoning even worse than it otherwise would be. His answer is made more powerful by recent history. In 2008, we rescued the creditors relentlessly that helped pave the way for this crisis. What will the next one look like?

I have a different problem with the apocalypse argument. How do you know if it’s true? Where’s the evidence that letting banks lose some, or most or even all of the money they unwisely lent or invested in bonds is going to lead to a disaster? Where are the data that make this claim credible other than a bald assertion?

But I have an even bigger problem with the apocalypse argument. If the threat of banks taking a haircut risks the apocalypse then we may as well admit the game is over. Just give the banks our wallets and checkbooks and go home. It’s the end of capitalism and the end of democracy. I’d prefer an apocalypse.

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