It seems to me that the recent events involving the demise of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch (in addition to slightly older events like the demise of Bear Sterns, the government stepping in to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and much older stuff like LTCM, etc) have shown that an absolute free market (with zero or negligible government intervention/oversight) would be a failed system.
Such a system has shown itself to not be a viable system to run a country, since it is prone to meltdowns, which, barring government intervention would lead to Great Depressions every couple of decades. Not a system anyone would want to live in.
Of course, the US is not an absolute free market, and has quite a bit of government intervention/oversight, and that seems to be the best combination for a livable society.
I’m wondering if there still are free market absolutists out there, and what they think of how the recent (and not so recent) events relate to their ideology.
Of course, the real issue is not between zero oversight and total control. The question is: what is the level of oversight/regulation/intervention that is optimal for the best functioning of society (i.e. growth, without disastrous meltdowns)?
It seems that many people (esp. on the Right), think that “the fewer government regulations the better”. Have such people come to rethink those attitudes in light of the recent crisis?
On a related note, many have questioned whether the government should be in the habit of rescuing these companies, since it sends the wrong signal, namely that private companies can take huge risks and, if they are “too big to fail” Uncle Sam will bail them out with taxpayer money. I agree with this.
I think that the government should be more in the business of setting up the rules of the game, and enforcing those rules, rather than bailing out companies that are about to fail. Maybe one such rule would be that no company can be allowed to become “too big to fail”, i.e. so big that its collapse would damage the entire economy.
If, on rare occasions, the government does step in, it should be done in a way that is as painful as possible for the company being saved, e.g. the government lays out the rules of the bail-out such that, if the company survives long term, it pays back all taxpayer money (with interest) that was used in bailing it out (maybe this is what they already do, though I’d be surprised if they did)