THE BLOG
10/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Free Market is Like a Toddler

The free market ideologues have had their way with America for over a decade now, and the results are in. Like the free market, a toddler is a wonderful source of energy, creativity, and invention. But left to its own devices it will self-destruct. Eat drano, chew electrical cords, run in front of cars, fall out of windows, handle fire, you name it.

The free market is exactly the same. Energetic, yes, and creative, yes, and innovative, yes, but stupid. It will gamble its way into bankruptcy, poison its children, destroy its environment--you can't take the kid anywhere. It insists on independence, brooks no interference: "All by myself!" it insists, until it gets into trouble. And then it's "Mommy! Daddy! Bail me out!"

The blazingly obvious lesson from all this, is that people who are addicted to making money are incapable of learning from experience--their own, or anyone else's. They didn't learn from our own past debacles, nor from Japan's.

Duh. You don't expect a gambler or a junkie to be far-sighted, why would you expect a money addict? Someone so obsessed, so determined to believe that the bubble will never burst that he'll make up all kinds of complicated economic theories to convince himself that, "this time it's different!"

Greed is not a self-regulating principle. The existence of multi-billionaires is proof that no amount of wealth is ever enough for people with this particular addiction. The richer they are, the less willing they tend to be to pay taxes, the lower the percentage of their income they're willing to donate to charity, and the more time and energy they tend to devote to hiding, protecting, and enlarging what they already have.

It may be true, as Paulson and Bernanke keep insisting, that precipitous and ill-considered action is necessary to prevent an even worse disaster. But it's a little depressing to hear the same old cry--that giving our money to the very rich will somehow be of benefit to us all, and that not doing it will make our present pain even worse. Adding blackmail to robbery seems like adding injury to insult.

We're told that we must give our money to the flim-flam artists who created this mess or they won't be able to conduct business as usual. Would that be a bad thing? They say we need urgently to pay them ransom in order to restore their confidence. But wasn't over-confidence what created this disaster? They say we need to act quickly in order to provide credit to keep business expanding. But isn't constant expansion a positive feedback loop? A cancer? Isn't this your basic bubble mentality? If the 'health' of the economy depends on forever inundating ourselves with future landfill, shouldn't it crash? I realize this is a callous, 'unrealistic' notion, but doesn't the question have to be dealt with sooner or later?

(For more on this see my forthcoming book, THE CHRYSALIS EFFECT: THE METAMORPHOSIS OF GLOBAL CULTURE. Details at philipslater.com)