The US House of Representatives has voted to reject the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act – the $700bn Treasury-funded facility for purchasing and managing toxic assets held by the US banking system.
Opposition to the proposal came from two different sources. A few remaining libertarians and believers in unfettered free enterprise voted against. Even when they recognise the risk that a calamitous collapse in economic activity may result, they view this as a form of creative destruction that is an integral part of a Darwinian market economy. I don’t know anything about Gresham Barrett, a Republican congressman from South Carolina but his statement fits the bill: “My fear is the government will be forever changing the face of the American free market. Because I believe so strongly in the principles of the free market and the belief in freedom, I will be opposing this bill.” Those who genuinely hold these views are mad, but honest and principled. I wish them a good depression.
A larger body of nay-voters consists of populist rabble-rousers or, worse, politicians who know better but follow the whims, fancies and passions of their constituents, even when this means that before long the real economy risks falling off a cliff. The following statement by Ted Poe, a Texan Republican member of Congress is a nice example: “New York City fatcats expect Joe Sixpack to buck up and pay for all of this nonsense,”… “Putting a financial gun to the head of every American is not the answer.”
The dedicated followers of constituency fashion reckon that the date of the election is likely to be before the full impact of the financial collapse made likely by this vote will hit their constituents’ jobs and businesses. They put re-election before the economic health of the nation and the interests of their constituents. Opportunism guides them rather than principle. I wish them a rather nasty depression.
What is likely to happen next? With a bit of luck, the House will be frightened by its own audacity and will reverse itself. If a substantively similar bill (or a better bill that addresses not just the problem of valuing toxic assets and getting them off the banks’ books, but also the problem of recapitalising the US banking sector) is passed in the next day or so, the damage can remain limited. If the markets fear that the nays have thrown their toys out of the pram for the long term, the following scenario is quite likely:
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