Silver Lining

Fareed Zakaria has a nice little article at Newsweek on the silver lining to this whole economic crisis. He says:

If there is a lesson to be taken from this crisis, it's a simple and old rule of economics: there is no free lunch. If you want something, you have to pay for it. Debt is not a bad thing. Used responsibly, it is at the heart of modern capitalism. But hiding mountains of debt in complex instruments is a way to disguise costs, an invitation to irresponsible behavior.

At some point, the magical accounting had to stop. At some point, consumers had to stop using their homes as banks and spending money that they didn't have. At some point, the government had to confront its indebtedness. The United States---and other overleveraged societies---have now gotten the wake-up call from hell. If we can respond and change our behavior markedly, this might actually be a blessing in disguise. (Though, as Winston Churchill said when he lost the election of 1945, "at the moment it appears rather effectively disguised.")

In the short term, all the solutions to the current crisis require that governments take on more debts and larger obligations. This is inevitable and necessary. But that doesn't mean we should, as some noted economists advocate, stimulate the economy with more tax cuts. That would be only one more way to keep the party going artificially---like asking a drunk to go to AA next year, but in the meantime to have even more whisky. A far better stimulus would be to announce and expedite major infrastructure and energy projects, which are investments, not consumption, and therefore have a much different effect on the country's fiscal fortunes. (They are not listed separately in the federal budget, but that's just bad accounting.)

In the medium and long term, we have to get back to basics. Households, for instance, should save more. Governments should put incentives in place that make such savings more likely. The U.S. government offers enormous incentives to consume (the deduction of mortgage interest being the best example), and it works. We have the biggest houses in the world, the thinnest flat-screen TVs and the most cars. If we were to tax consumption and encourage savings, that would also work. Regulations on credit-card debt should be revised to ensure that people understand the risks and costs of these instruments. Moving in this direction would be good for families and for the government as well.

From Zakaria: A More Disciplined America | Newsweek Business |
Referenced Wed Oct 15 2008 15:49:58 GMT-0600 (MDT)

This resonates with me as a conservative. It's ironic that Republicanism has come to mean just the opposite over the last 8 years.