28 October 2009

Too Big to Fail?

The federal government’s blitz on private property continues with the latest move out of the Obama playbook. The headline: “U.S. Considers Reigning In ‘Too Big to Fail’ Institutions.”

Congress and the Obama administration are about to take up one of the most fundamental issues stemming from the near collapse of the financial system last year – how to deal with institutions that are so big that the government has no choice but to rescue them when they get into trouble.[Note 1, emphasis mine.]

Notice that the Times article did not state that the government believes it has no choice; it states as if it were a matter of fact that the government has no choice. Such is the mentality of the left; it cannot even conceive of a civilization in which people stand on their own feet.

Even the term “too big to fail,” which has become all too common in this bailout era, is deliberately deceptive. The concept really means “too big to allow to fail.” Discounting the very idea that failure could be allowed makes it seem like government intervention is a necessity, a metaphysical fact of nature, as opposed to a set of choices (and bad ones at that) made by politicians. “Too big to fail” bypasses the necessity to think; there is no question of whether a company should be left to reap the consequences of its own actions or be artificially propped up with taxpayer money. The modern politician does not pause to consider his self-appointed role as meddler. Ham-handed interference comes so naturally, it would not occur to him to think about the rights he tramples and the destruction he wreaks.

We have already seen the Bush-Obama federal government shower taxpayer money upon private companies as an alleged “rescue” from a crisis the government itself created, in some cases forcing the companies to accept the loot against their wishes. This “gift” was used as a means of exerting pressure on them days or weeks later. Now, the Obama administration claims the prerogative not only to decide which companies are “too big to fail” and what constitutes “being in trouble,” but seizes the power to “throw out management, wipe out the shareholders and change the terms of existing loans held by the institution.”

This power-grabbing strategy is simple in the extreme, and is as ancient and common as gullibility, fear, and hatred itself. The government exerts force upon its citizens, which invariably creates a problem; this problem is blamed on a resented group (foreigners, Jews, corporate executives), which is used by the government as the pretext to grab more power, creating more problems, etc. This vicious cycle is precisely the means by which the protection of individual rights has been whittled away in the United States for more than a century. It is not hard to see that the technique is self-perpetuating, if the public is willing – or forced – to fall in line.

This trend must be checked and reversed now, before it is too late. We are not yet in the thrall of dictatorship; we are not yet at the point of being fully silenced by force. True, there are ominous threats to free speech (to name just a couple, the White House snitch line and the FTC threat against bloggers), but I can still publish this blog post without fear of direct punishment by the government. The time to hide typewriters and printing presses under the floorboards has not yet come. Nevertheless, the acceleration of the federal government’s grasp of power under George Bush and Barack Obama is frightening. Mr. Obama’s “shock and awe” campaign against American citizens is intended to numb and inure us to complete government control.

The federal government (with the nearly full cooperation of the mainstream media) obtains the consent of the public by obscuring the nature of their increasing grip on us. Private businesses are demonized as predatory and compulsory, while government activities are characterized as “offering more choices” and “protecting the consumer.” Politicians and journalists count on Americans either not understanding what freedom is, or simply going along with the pretense that this is just business as usual. For instance, in the Times article I quoted, assistant Treasury secretary Michael S. Barr characterized the takeover as “market discipline”; the difference between private citizens judging how to handle their own affairs voluntarily and the government forcing citizens to act against their own judgment is supposed to be disregarded by the public as a superficial technicality.

Americans must not let the government pull this legerdemain without naming its nature. Government actions are not “market mechanisms,” but are anathema to free markets. Governments are institutions not of free trade but of force, and as such, must be strictly limited to their only appropriate role: safeguarding the rights of its citizens to deal with each other peaceably and voluntarily as each sees fit. Contrary to his own opinion, President Obama is not in charge of every company in America; in fact, he should have far less say in the operations of businesses than any floor-sweeper or hamburger-flipper. Not only should the president not preside in board rooms, but he ought to be respectfully thrown out. Capitalism requires the complete separation of the economy and the state.

The fact that the president and his team of czars think they can fire executives, defy shareholder contracts, and set wages to what they deem fit, is shocking and outrageous. It is not merely un-American but anti-American. Mr. Obama has demonstrated conduct befitting South American dictators and Chicago gangsters, not the President of the United States - and it deserves every bit of indignant protest from the Americans who are still alert enough to cry foul amid the masses dazzled under the president’s spell.

Despite the endless insistence by the media and politicians, it is plainly not true that any company is “too big to fail,” or that “the government has no choice but to rescue them.” In fact, when any company, big or small, goes out of business in a free market, it constitutes justice; it indicates that the company judged something wrong and the failure sends accurate signals to the rest of the market. People who did not make mistakes are not forced to pay for those who did.

It is only the unfree market - government meddling, such as we have under Bush and Obama - that causes distortions that destroy wealth and trample upon justice.


1. “U.S. Considers Reining In ‘Too Big to Fail’ Institutions,” The New York Times, 25 Oct 2009.


Steve D said...


Good post but I do have an issue regarding one point.

"We have already seen the Bush-Obama federal government shower taxpayer money upon private companies as an alleged “rescue” from a crisis the government itself created, in some cases forcing the companies to accept the loot against their wishes."

Companys that accepted money voluntarily are no longer 'private' companies. Once they accept money they have to accept some degree or another of government interferance. They are goverment coporations now for all intents and purposes.

It's a different matter if the company was forced to take money. In those cases, I think they have the right to laugh in the government's face!

I agree with your main point about 'too big to fail'. Obviously, the solution is for people to take a step back and consider the fundamental issue of whether or not should be in the business of bailing out anyone. This is a textbook case of pragmatic thinking and the refusal or inability to get to the core of the matter.


Stephen Bourque said...

Thanks for the good comment, Steve.  I believe the point may be of such general interest that I’ve expanded my reply to a new post here.

I understand your point and I think it is very natural for rational, civilized people to think along those lines.  It seems like simple common sense.  However, I think it is a mistake, which I explain in the post.