free market my ass (Fed steps in to rescue ailing insurer AIG) (SEC imposes emergency ban on short-selling) (Believe it when you see it.)

So we know Carter and then Reagan removed much of the economic regulation of corporations.  I mention both so I don’t have to hear idiotic party finger pointing.  In theory this was to move more towards a true and pure capitalist market, and expand the economy.  Most would say that worked well.  It may have stifled small business and competition, or hurt workers’ rights, but the federal government would argue that our GDP expanded and the nations’ economy benefited.  Some would argue workers’ rights and small business protection are state or city issues, others would argue that’s a load of crap, but the end result is our country’s economy got better and the federal government could claim success.

So.. now we have companies taking bad business risk, and nothing is stopping them.  What would those that think deregulation is still the right way say?  They would say, as a true capitalist would, you invest in those companies so you should watch them.  The reality is I invest in index funds, mutual funds, bond funds, and trust those fund managers to watch them.  I don’t have the time to watch each individual company or entire market segments.  I can barely stay on top of the fact that Nortel is crumbling underneath itself in my own market.  These fund managers are pressured to show results, and they sure aren’t going to call out wildly successful markets or individual companies in most cases.  So what’s left?

Well, when people get scared, they look to the government.  They want the government to step in.  Is that the answer though?  It seems like the fundamental problem here was companies taking risk, the economy being too invested with that risk, and us seeing the bear to counter our boom.   How do you fix that?  To me, it seems like the SEC responsibility here should simply be to find a way to be sure more people understand the risk better.  Maybe the government should be rating debt of public companies based on a standard method of risk assessment so investors and the public can understand their risk better?  Maybe the investment houses’ risks should be rated on funds more consistently and accurately?  I’m not sure what the answer is, but making sure everyone understands risk to a better degree seems like the fundamentally right direction from my economically ignorant perspective.

I don’t think actually stopping these companies from doing things is the right answer.  After all, the ability to excel in a risky environment is what makes companies rise.  Removing the ability to be risky will surely stifle our international ability to excel in the long run.  Our real issue was too many companies taking too much risk.  How would the government oversight decide who gets to risk what and how much?  That seems like a bad way to regulate to me.  However, if we had more information about our collective risk, would we have had the market so heavily invested in this way?  Obviously the housing boom wouldn’t have been as much of a boom if less of these risky mortgages had been allowed, but would that be such a bad thing?

Let me know what you all think.

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