Capitalism 101: The Money Tree « The Socjournal

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown, Ben Bernanke, America’s leading scholar of the Great Depression, has been credited with saving the nation’s economy. As a reward for his sterling work, on August 25, 2009, President Obama appointed Ben Bernanke to a second term as the Chair of the Federal Reserve.

Three cheers for Ben!

Apparently, if Ben Bernanke hadn’t saved our bacon, quite a few Americans would currently be living in Hoovervilles or roaming the countryside in Joad-jalopies. Certainly, no one wants that to happen. So, how did Ben do it? How did Bernanke pull off his epic economic miracle, i.e., snatching the economic system from the jaws of disaster and, in the space of only a few short months, returning it to a state of sanity and prosperity?

While Ben’s Miracle may have spared the country years of misery — BTW, it took FDR three terms to accomplish what Bernanke has wrought in a mere nine months — it has also etched a highly innovative chapter in the history of capitalism. Indeed, for true believers in the history of capitalism, the chapter on Ben’s Miracle is likely to produce a shock of gray hairs. According to its authorized history, capitalism is an economic system that is based upon risk and reward. Risky investments offer the advantage of large returns, however, they also escalate the chances of financial ruin. Thus, capitalism is often touted as the most efficient of all economic systems because of the way that it rewards the wise and punishes fools. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

For the purposes of accomplishing his Miracle, Ben Bernanke suspended some of the most fundamental rules of capitalism. In November 2008, when the full scope of the financial crisis came to light, instead of permitting corporate jackals to reap the financial ruin that they so richly deserved, Ben loosed a near Biblical deluge of financial absolution. All sins were forgiven, no lunkheaded investment was too egregious to merit a bailout. TARP was only the beginning. To enhance liquidity, the Fed bought up trillions in toxic assets.

At this point, one might ask, “So, where did Ben get the money to resuscitate all those Wall Street wastrels?” Well, apparently, in Ben Bernanke’s economic universe, money grows on trees. No wonder President Obama reappointed him. Who on earth would fire a financial wizard of that caliber? Anyone who can conjure trillions of dollars during the nation’s darkest hour has certainly earned his spot on the roster. Still, to be perfectly honest, that’s what ticks me off about Ben and his Miracle.

That is, during times of economic sanity, the high priests of capitalism often preach about money being a scarce and, therefore, precious resource. These homilies usually include admonitions about how those who wish to accumulate an abundance of elusive swag must tread the perilous tightrope of capitalist virtue: work hard, play by the rules, invest wisely — or else, plummet into the abyss.

Yeah, right.

Actions speak louder than words. Ben Bernanke may talk like a true-believer, but his economic Miracle willfully contradicts the most sacred tenets of capitalism. Rather than punishing irresponsible buffoons, Ben’s Miracle was predicated upon a strategy that rewarded financial malfeasance; even to the point of handing out bonuses to incompetent executives. Of course, Bernanke embraced this morally hazardous solution because deadbeats throughout the financial community had cunningly diffused the jeopardy of their incautious investments–via the magic of credit default swaps–throughout the entire financial system. Given the dire threat of systemic risk, Bernanke had little choice but to implement a policy of universal clemency.

Leaders often have to make tough decisions. Given the available options, either bailing out Wall Street’s reprobates or watching the entire economic system collapse, I believe Ben made the right choice. Indeed, so long as I am able to keep my job, my home, and continue feeding my family, I will continue to support Big Ben and his economic Miracle. In an imperfect world, Ben Bernanke has managed the 2008 meltdown and the current economic recovery as well as anyone could hope.

That said, I do find Ben’s solution to the 2008 financial crisis somewhat alarming. Consider, if you will, the economic precedent that Bernanke has set: moral hazard is as dead as a dodo. The sharks on Wall Street are not fools. Ben’s universal bailout illustrated that, as long as there is sufficient collusion among investors, they need no longer fear the downside of contemptible financial risks. Success is assured if only the geniuses on Wall Street can find some way to threaten the entire economic system. How’s that for irony? Ben Bernanke has proclaimed to the world’s financial pirates that, by risking everything, they will–at least on his watch–risk nothing. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s not what I consider an enduring or palatable solution to the current economic crisis.

Still, what’s done is done. Hopefully, Ben Bernanke has a whole orchard of money trees.

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Posted by Timothy McGettigan on June 23, 2010.

Categories: Columnists, Featured Articles, Political Economy, Timothy McGettigan