That jewel comes from Dr. Milton Friedman and should be kept in mind when we read something like the following:
President Bush on Tuesday announced a $250 billion plan by the government to directly buy shares in the nation's leading banks, saying the drastic steps were "not intended to take over the free market but to preserve it."
Nine major banks will participate initially including all of the country's largest institutions, he announced, in a move that sent stocks soaring on Wall Street.
Some of the nation's largest banks had to be pressured to participate by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who wanted healthy institutions that did not necessarily need capital from the government to go first as a way of removing any stigma that might be associated with banks getting bailouts.
"We regret having to take these actions," Paulson said. "Today's actions are not what we ever wanted to do -- but today's actions are what we must do to restore confidence to our financial system."
It was the latest in a long series of moves taken by the administration and the Federal Reserve over the past several weeks to prop up a weakening financial industry. The economic picture in the United States had been darkening for months, but the slump took on new urgency -- and had greater global repercussions -- amid record-setting selloffs on Wall Street and enactment of a $700 billion bailout bill.
Under the new multifaceted stabilization program described Tuesday, the government will initially buy stocks in nine major U.S. banks. When financial markets stabilize and recover, the banks are expected to buy the stock back from the government, Bush said in brief remarks from the White House Rose Garden.
"These efforts are designed to directly benefit the American people by stabilizing the financial system and helping the economy recover," he said.
Paulson told a Treasury Department news conference that the aggressive government intervention was "what we must do to restore confidence in our financial system."
The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, announced that it will begin buying vast amounts of short-term debt on Oct. 27 -- its latest effort to break through a credit clog. The Fed is invoking Depression-era emergency powers to buy commercial paper -- a crucial short-term funding that many companies rely on to pay their workers and buy supplies. Last week the Fed said it intended to take the action but didn't specify when.
Depression era emergency powers eh?
It might be wise to dust off the history books and see what made the Great Depression so... er... great:
On Saturday’s Good Morning America, ABC ran an unusual report that placed some of the blame for the Great Depression’s length on government intervention by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as Herbert Hoover, and concluded by questioning whether the current plans could do harm. After an unidentified economist contended that "the government from Hoover to Roosevelt made it worse by intervening too much and too arbitrarily," correspondent Bill Blakemore concluded: "And now, is the Bush government intervening too much arbitrarily with its $700 billion bailout? That’s a million dollar question, so to speak, for those trying to guess when this crisis will end."
Blakemore’s attention to this often ignored take on government intervention came at the end of a report that looked back at the Great Depression. After giving Roosevelt credit for injecting America with a "can do" spirit, Blakemore noted that the Great Depression ended its 10-year run as a result of World War II. He then asked the question of why the Stock Market Crash of 1929 resulted in the Great Depression:
BLAKEMORE: So what made the crash of ‘29 lengthen into a depression?
WOMAN: Because the government from Hoover to Roosevelt made it worse by intervening too much and too arbitrarily.
BLAKEMORE: And now, is the Bush government intervening too much arbitrarily with its $700 billion bailout? That’s a million dollar question, so to speak, for those trying to guess when this crisis will end.
If history is any guage, and it's likely the best gauge available, Blakemore has basically already answered his question.
And so I return to a few more Milton Friedman quotes that I believe to be relevant:
"If a government were put in charge of the Sahara Desert, within five years they’d have a shortage of sand."
"There's nothing that does so much harm as good intentions."
"The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem."
"Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself."
That last one I believe goes to the core of our problems today.