GEORGE SOROS: ...this belief that everybody pursuing his self-interests will maximize the common interests or will take care of the common interests is a false idea. It's a suitable idea for those who are rich, who are successful, who are powerful. It suits them to justify you know, enjoying the fruits without paying taxes.
Yesterday he interviewed (thanks to Mark Thoma for the link) heterodox economist James Galbraith (UT Austin; son of John Kenneth Galbraith). Moyers led into the Galbraith interview by first quoting from Alan Greenspan's recent congressional testimony.
ALAN GREENSPAN: I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.
CHAIRMAN WAXMAN: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Absolutely, precisely. You know, that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.
Now on to the heterodoxy:
Now to my heterodox heterodoxy: always estimate costs and benefits when making a decision. A little calculation is in order: suppose unfettered markets lead to systemic crises every 20 years that cost 15% of GDP to clean up. I think that's an upper bound: a $2 trillion (current dollars) crisis every 20 years.
BILL MOYERS: With his ideological blinders stripped away by reality, Alan Greenspan might well do penance by curling up this weekend not with THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED but with James K. Galbraith's new book THE PREDATOR STATE: HOW CONSERVATIVES ABANDONED THE FREE MARKET AND WHY LIBERALS SHOULD TOO. In it, the author asks: "Why not build a new economic policy based on what is really happening?" ...
BILL MOYERS: What scares you most right now?
JAMES GALBRAITH: Well, a week ago or two weeks ago I would have said the possibility that [McCain economic advisor] Phil Gramm might become Secretary of the Treasury. ...Gramm himself was the architect, a deep architect of the speculative markets that have just collapsed. ...
BILL MOYERS: You call your book THE PREDATOR STATE, what do you mean predator?
JAMES GALBRAITH: What I mean is the people who took over the government were not interested in reducing the government and having a small government, the conservative principle. They were interested in using these great institutions for private benefit, to place them in the control of their friends and to put them to the use of their clients. They wanted to privatize Social Security. They created a Medicare drug benefit in such a way as to create the maximum profit for pharmaceutical companies.
They used trade agreements to extend patent protections for various interests or to promote the expansion of the corporate agriculture's markets in the third world. A whole range of things that were basically political and clientelistic. That's the predator state.
BILL MOYERS: You call it a corporate republic.
JAMES GALBRAITH: It is a corporate republic.
BILL MOYERS: Which means that the purpose of government is to divert funds from the public sector to the private sector?
JAMES GALBRAITH: I think it's very clear. They also turned over the regulatory apparatus to the regulated industries. They turned over the henhouse to the foxes in every single case. And that is the source of the decline in, the abandonment of environmental responsibility, the source of the collapse of consumer protection, and the source of the collapse of the financial system, all trace back to a common root, which is the failure to maintain a public sector that works in the public interest, that provides discipline and standards, a framework within which the private sector can operate and compete. That's been abandoned.
BILL MOYERS: We saw what Alan Greenspan said yesterday. But did you see what the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Christopher Cox, said? I mean, it was one of the great recantings in modern American history. Quote, "The last six months have made it abundantly clear that voluntary regulation does not work."
Easy Question: What growth rate advantage (additional GDP growth rate per annum) would savage, unfettered markets need to generate to justify these occasional disasters?
Answer: an additional 0.1 percent annual GDP growth would be more than enough. That is, an unregulated economy whose growth rate was 0.1 percent higher would, even after paying for each 20 year crisis, be richer than the heavily regulated comparator which avoided the crises but had a lower growth rate.
Hard Question: would additional regulation decrease economic growth rates by that amount or more?
Unless you think you can evaluate the relative GDP growth effects of two different policy regimes with accuracy of better than 0.1 percent, then the intellectually honest answer to the policy question is: I don't know. No shouting, no shaking your fist, no lecturing other people, no writing op eds, just I don't know. Correct the things that are obviously stupid, but don't overstate your confidence level about additional policy changes.
(Note I'm aware that distributional issues are also important. In the most recent era gains went mostly to a small number of top earners whereas the cost of the bailout will be spread over the whole tax base.)