Sunday, October 12, 2008

Milton Friedman burns in hell

Perhaps Uncle Milty will come back and visit Davey Strom one day.

Chris Floyd has a recent post about the fallen angel Milton Friedman:

Beginning with Margaret Thatcher's election in 1979, government after government -- and party after party -- fell to the onslaught of an extremist faith: the narrow, blinkered fundamentalism of the "Chicago School." Epitomized by its patron saint, Milton Friedman, the rigid doctrine held that an unregulated market would always "correct" itself, because its workings are based on entirely rational and quantifiable principles.  This was of course an absurdly reductive and savagely ignorant view of history, money and human nature; but because it flattered the rich and powerful, offering an "intellectual" justification for rapacious greed and ever-widening economic and social inequality, it was adopted as holy writ by the elite and promulgated as public policy.

This radical cult -- a kind of Bolshevism from above -- took its strongest hold in the United States and Britain, and was then imposed on many weaker nations through the IMF-led "Washington Consensus" (more aptly named by Naomi Klein as the "Shock Doctrine"), with devastating and deadly results. (As in Yeltsin's Russia, for example, where life expectancy dropped precipitously and millions of people died premature deaths from poverty, illness, and despair.)

According to the cult, not only were markets to be freed from the constraints placed on them after the world-shattering effects of the Great Depression, but all public spending was to be slashed ruthlessly to the bone. (Although exceptions were always made for the Pentagon war machine.) After all, every dollar spent by a public entity on public services and amenities was a dollar taken away from the private wheeler-dealers who could more usefully employ it in increasing the wealth of the elite -- who would then allow some of their vast profits to "trickle down" to the lower orders.

George Soros piles on:

Because actually they [the government prior to the development of the crisis] have been working on false premises. This sounds very strange, but there's been this development of, this belief of market fundamentalism. And particularly the idea that markets always revert to the mean and deviations from the mean occur in a random fashion. And you can calculate it.

And you will get a nice distribution and you can anticipate it. And based on that, you can manage your risk. And that actually was based on a false idea. This namely, the markets self-correcting because the market moods have a way of affecting the fundamentals the markets are supposed to reflect.

And there's always a divergence between our perception and what actually exists. For instance, take the simplest situation, namely housing.

Banks give you credit based on the value of the houses. But they don't seem to somehow understand that the value of the houses can be affected by the amount of credit they are willing to give. Now, we've developed these fabulous new ways of securitizing mortgages, which has made credit much more amply available.

And we've been able to calculate risk. And, therefore, we were willing to give more and more credit. And that has pushed up the value of the houses. Also, of course Greenspan kept interest rates too low, too long. And so you had very low interest rates, easy credit, and house prices have been appreciating at more than ten percent a year for a number of years. And the willingness to lend actually increased. There was an insatiable appetite for these new fangled securities.

At the link above, you can watch a video and read the transcript of an interview of George Soros by Bill Moyers from last Friday evening.

Highly recommended.

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