Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Inflation and CBs 5: Capitalism Without Failure is Like Religion Without Sin

Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin. The statement is from a CATO scholar, Gerald P. O'Driscoll Jr., in his paper, "Treasury's Thieves". Perhaps people should keep that in mind before they conclude that the current financial turmoil in the US, which is spreading to financial markets abroad, marks the beginning of the "end of capitalism".

The current financial "meltdown" should happen. If the meltdown does not happen today, then it should happen tomorrow, or next week, or next year. And it should continue, if only to weed out the irresponsible corporate leaders and the cheaters.

What should not happen is a government bail-out of collapsing and imploding big banks and firms. In this case, the proposed US government bailout for the financial sector to the tune of $700 billion -- not counting the projected budget deficit of more than $480 billion by the end of 2008 of the federal government alone (many states, cities and counties have their own sets of budget deficits).

So why is government bailout not justifiable? Three important reasons.

One, make those responsible for a corporate collapse be accountable for their mistakes. Hence, they should pay the price for their irresponsibility and misbehavior. Those who should sink must sink. And taxpayers' money should not be used to bail out irresponsible corporate guys.

Two, governments by themselves have no money on their own to bail out failed enterprises except for what governments confiscate from the income and savings of the hardworking citizens in the form of various taxes, charges regulatory fees and fines, or by printing money endlessly through their central banks, which can push inflation upwards endlessly, and thereby rob again the responsible citizens of the real value of their income, savings and investments.

And three, the US Fed's and other central banks' (like the Europe CB) large-scale bailout pool and consequent monetary policies will be distortionary. In cases like this, producers and manufacturers are forced to watch the behavior of the Fed or any central bank on whether it will raise or lower or keep existing interest rates, or protect the currency from further depreciation or appreciation, rather than watch the behavior of consumers (if their preferences and buying pattern are changing or not) or the behavior of competing producers from other countries (if they are producing better quality goods and services or selling at lower prices or a combination of both).

High inflation is caused mainly by lower supply relative to demand. So to address high inflation, expand supply relative to the size of demand. But central bank bureaucrats think they can solve the world's price problem by centralizing monetary tools in their hands, and squeeze money supply by tightening credits and raising interest rates -- which in the process choke many entrepreneurs and producers, both big and small.

The term "socialism for the rich" (under a longer phrase, "profits are privatized but losses are socialized") is wrong. The proposed multi-billion dollar bailout can be aptly called "socialism for the irresponsible" because only irresponsible and envious people would love socialism. Under socialism, the lazy and the envious will still eat, will still have allowances, and will be entitled to free "quality" education, health care, housing, etc. because social equality is non-negotiable.

For the socialists or trying-hard socialists, personal and corporate responsibility or irresponsibility do not count much. What matters to them is more "government responsibility" . So, corporate irresponsibility of officials of those big firms don't count much, those firms are "too big to fail", they should not sink, and their officials need not go to prison.

Some people ask, "Who are the irresponsible? Who defines 'irresponsibility' and who should penalize them?" There can be a BIG political battle on the definition of "irresponsible" because among the most irresponsible institutions involved in the current financial "meltdown" is the BIG US government itself.

It is easy to spot an irresponsible guy or institution: they live beyond their means, consistently. They spend much bigger than their income or revenue, consistently. Or worse, they spend and ask for more subsidies even if they have no income, nor have any plan to work and have regular income. A person who in his late 20s or 30s still depends his parents' allowance is irresponsible. A bank that lends to many people, who it perfectly knows have no jobs or no stable jobs and income, is irresponsible. A government on budget deficit, for one, two, five decades or more, is irresponsible.

So, how should they be penalized? The penalties for cases like failed companies are already in the books of any country's legal system. Bank or corporate officials who lose their stockholders' money should go to prison, or the cemetery perhaps -- in the case of those unlucky to be caught by really mad and impoverished investors.

After the US government announced the huge bailout fund that it seeks from the US Congress, the US stock markets were battered once more, the US dollar was knocked down further, and even world oil prices were up once more.

Why? It's the distrust on the US government, distrust on any fiscal "stimulus" by a bailout scheme because of the big taxes and fees that will be confiscated from the pockets and monthly salaries of US citizens in the coming months and years.

A friend shared that the proposed Treasury bailout plan has this provision:
Sec. 8. Review. Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Dictators hate for their work and decision to be reviewed and questioned. "Non-reviewable" clause by any court or any agency speaks of the absence of accountability and transparency, absence of personal and official responsibility, for any mistakes in the future. If they are not dictators, then they should be fully transparent and fully accountable for their actions and policy decisions. If they do not want to be accountable for any future mistake, then they should not initiate such bailout move in the first place.

The pattern and the dangers are there: individual responsibility is meaningless under a socialist or trying-hard socialist framework. Everything is "government responsibility" . The primacy of the collective over the individual, always. And in their books, to have order in the collective, each individual -- except the administrators and governors of the collective -- must surrender a big portion of their income, their savings and their personal liberty, to the collective. Then there will be order in society, harmony and equality. Perhaps equality in misery.

Again, corporate failures and bankruptcies, as well as expansion and becoming big, are part of the game under a capitalist set-up. Market failures almost always result in market solutions, unlike government failures that almost always result in more bureaucracies and offices to find out how much have been wasted and stolen already.

Here at home, if Metrobank or BDO or BPI would "collapse" someday for whatever reason, taxpayers should not support any bailout by the government, whether through the the central bank (BSP) or congressional appropriation. Let any big but misbehaving ship sink if it must -- that's fair game, and this alone will put enough pressure and discipline on existing banks, corporations and enterprises not to act irresponsibly. Government has little or no role on private contracts between stockholders or owners and corporate officials, except with its usual role of a parasite -- collecting high and dozens of different taxes when one or two taxes will suffice.

* See also: Inflation and CBs 4: Subsidies and Money Printing, August 17, 2008

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