Big Rescues Must Work Because Smart People Care!

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It is well known that smart people—particularly the subset of the intelligent sometimes called intellectuals—tend to overrate the role of intelligence in providing solutions to social problems. This was on display in lurid colors in Gretchen Morgenson’s Sunday column in the New York Times lamenting the lack of “an intelligent and comprehensive plan for dealing with mass foreclosures and the economic consequences associated with the [credit crash] debacle.”
Morgenson goes to great lengths to draw comparisons to New York City’s bankruptcy crisis in the midseventies—which, as she says, was avoided in part by a cabal of government officials and bankers conspiring to refinance the city’s teetering debt structure. But she goes too far in reading a greater lesson into this story. It becomes almost a fairy tale of intellectualism, in which well intentioned intellectuals swoop in from their glass and steel perches to rescue capitalism from its tendency toward anarchy. The idea that no rescue plan outside of permitting market processes to operate is available is reduced to “doing nothing.” A better way must be available because “America is full of smart and caring people!”
We’re second to no one in our appreciation of the smart and caring—we’re not supposed to call them the “best and the brightest” anymore—Inhabiting these Untied States. Unfortunately, we have stubborn memories that insist on recalling the fact that the mortgage crisis that set off the broader credit crisis has its origins in the plans of the smart and caring to expand homeownership beyond the levels established through market processes. Perhaps its time to give “doing nothing” a chance.
Big Rescues Can Work. Just Ask New York. [New York Times]

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