Lesson 21: Anatomy of a Recession Part 4: Conclusions
The gestational events of this recession give us an opportunity to re-learn some lessons that we've been taught before...or to ignore them. The most basic lesson is that government should govern business, not conduct business. Whenever government tries to do any business, it fouls it up beyond any intention or imagination. That is not ideology; it is history, and it is basic economics (see Lessons 4,6,12). Greed and crime have always existed, but only through the power of government can they reach new peaks. The government should never have been in the mortgage business. Institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are destined to be vehicles of crony corruption. They attract people like Franklin Delano Raines, who went from Vice President of Fannie Mae to the director of Management & Budget for President Clinton, then back to Fannie Mae as its CEO. While CEO, he oversaw massive accounting fraud which put $90 million dollars in his pocket. Instead of going to jail like Enron executives, he became an advisor for Barack Obama. The importance of Fannie and Freddie cannot be overstated. Their existence provided a taxpayer safety net for widespread irresponsibility in the private mortgage industry. When it looked like that safety net might not be wide enough, Henry Paulson and the Goldman Sachs Gang got government jobs, where they worked to ensure bail-outs and favorable regulations. These are the migratory patterns of cronies: from Congressman to lobbyist to consultant to commissioner to CEO to cabinet position. The only way to cleanse this parasitic activity is to drain the government swamp from the business environment. But limited government does not mean no government, and the Free Market is not supposed to be the Wild West. Old laws such as the Uptick Rule (Lesson 18) and Glass-Steagall (repealed by Gramm-Leach, Lesson 17) were probably old for good reason, and should not have been so totally cast aside. Old, complex laws should be repealed carefully, a piece at a time. Likewise, new laws should be passed with equal caution. Too often, laws such as the Community Reinvestment Act (Lesson 16), Rule 157 and Sarbanes-Oxley (Lesson 19) sound good and feel good. They are often passed in sweeping haste, in response to some outcry (such as the Enron scandals). Problems are usually handled most quickly and effectively by consumers and their feet. Next best are their representatives in the legislature. The worst solution is to leave problems to unelected bureaucrats on regulatory commissions. Most importantly, authors of new laws must always consider the greatest law of all: The Law of Unintended Consequences.