Commentary

Stop the Bailouts

The fundamental causes of this recession, unique in the experience of the United States, were mortgage defaults and the consequent insolvency of major financial firms. These insolvencies, and especially fear of them, damaged normal credit mechanisms.

The self-correcting nature of markets will ultimately prevail. We should not underestimate the power of monetary policy; with the sharp increase in the nation’s money stock starting in September, monetary policy is now extraordinarily expansionary. I believe, though without great confidence, that the recession will end in the second half of this year.

Federal policy is damaging the economy’s prospects. ”

Federal policy is damaging the economy’s prospects. It fails to provide the needed tax incentives for investment in factories and equipment, incentives that were central to efforts to revive the economy during the Kennedy-Johnson era and under Ronald Reagan. But government spending can’t lead the way to sustained recovery, because its stimulating effect will be offset by anticipated higher taxes and the need to finance the deficit.

Heavy-handed federal intervention into the management of companies from banks to auto makers will also delay recovery. And misguided efforts to help distressed homeowners by permitting courts to rewrite the terms of mortgages will cause banks to limit mortgage lending, which will prevent housing from contributing to the recovery.

The unrelenting anger across the country over bailouts of corporations and households that made unwise and even irresponsible financial decisions is influencing federal policy. Punitive measures, like forcing companies receiving federal dollars to cancel employee events, will increase uncertainty over where the government will strike next in its effort to deflect public outrage. Instead of more bailouts, we need a clear and consistent path to fundamental reform of our financial system.

William Poole is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis from 1998 to 2008.