Sometimes Nothing is the Right Thing to Do

I have always been committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.
John McCain

Despite the fact that Senator McCain has said the economy isn’t his strong point, he has a lot stronger grasp of basic economic principles than anybody else running for president, not to mention a lot of other people in Washington who ought to know better.

In addition to the Bear Stearns bailout, since the beginning of the year, the Fed has loaned over $260 billion to banks that got into financial trouble by making bad mortgage loans. The Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 is on the horizon, and there’s another bill lined up behind it to extend an additional $300-400 billion in federally guaranteed (that means guaranteed by you and me) mortgages for people who overextended themselves to buy houses that were well beyond their means.

Senator Obama talks about “folks [being] tricked into purchasing loans they can’t afford.” Both Senators Obama and Clinton think we need to kick in a $30 billion dollar emergency housing fund (at taxpayer expense) to help bail out these poor victims, never mind that they’re victims of their own greed and irresponsibility. Senator Clinton also wants to freeze subprime mortgage rates and impose a 90 day moratorium on foreclosures for the poor dears. And, earlier this week, Senator Clinton suggested that perhaps the government should start buying up foreclosed homes. It’s not enough for the government to be in the healthcare business, now she wants to get it into the real estate business, too. (Is there any business Mrs. Clinton doesn’t think the government should be in?)

While Senators Clinton and Obama are leaping over one another trying to come up with more innovative and expensive ways for the government to manipulate the housing market, Senator McCain is quietly saying it isn’t the role of the government to bail out either the banks or the borrowers. The Democrats scoff. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean sneers that McCain is taking “the same hands-off approach that President Bush used to lead us into this crisis.”

What the Democrats fail to understand is the basic principles of economics. (But what else is new?) It was not a “hands off” policy that got us into this mess, but a “hands on” policy of lowering interest rates and expanding FHA, FNMA, and FHLMC financing to encourage unprecedented (and unwarranted) growth in the housing market. The government got us into this situation by meddling in the free market. It isn’t going to get us out by meddling more. What needs to happen is the market needs to find a balance where the demand meets the supply. The only way for that to happen is to let it occur naturally. Yes, it means housing prices will drop. They’re doing that anyway. Yes, it’s painful. But it has to happen.

Federal policies aimed at making it easier for first time home buyers to buy houses before they could actually afford those houses led to an artificially high demand, which artificially inflated prices. People (and financing companies) started playing fast and loose, speculating that the manic spiral in home prices would continue indefinitely. But it couldn’t. Supply increased to meet demand, interest rates went up, people who overextended themselves couldn’t meet their payments and started defaulting, demand fell off just as supply was peaking, and the market was oversaturated. Now it has to correct.

The laws of economics weren’t made up by economists, any more than the laws of physics were made up by physicists. These “laws” are based on observation and analysis of naturally occurring phenomena. They can’t be changed or wished away. Imbalances do occur but, over time, they correct themselves. The housing market is self-correcting now. It will eventually reach equilibrium. Any measures that attempt to forestall that will only postpone the inevitable. A problem deferred is not a problem solved.

The Democrats insist that the government can’t just stand by and do nothing. Something bad is happening. We must do something! Anything! They have no idea how to solve the problem, because the problem can’t be solved by more government meddling, and government meddling is the only thing they know how to do. But, since they can think of nothing more embarrassing than standing around doing nothing, they’re leaping over each other trying desperately to show us that they will do something. (Not nothing, like Senator McCain.) And what they’ll do is what they always do. When they see a problem, they throw money at it. Your money. My money. Everybody’s money. Unfortunately, that won’t solve the problem. Because, sometimes, nothing is the right thing to do.

The Democratic response, as usual, is like a parent with a spoiled child. They think it’s their job as parent to prevent their child from ever experiencing any pain, so they go to any lengths to shield it from the consequences of its own actions. But a child who never faces consequences never learns. Sometimes pain is necessary, especially when it’s a natural consequence of irrational behavior.

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