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« Kansas Senate Race: Jim Slattery on Pat Roberts' Smears | Main | For Those Who Would Change the Wind »

So Much for Free Markets, and the Love of Money

By Larry James
September 22, 2008

So much for free markets. Decisions about how systems and institutions work have consequences in the lives of real people. It's just a fact.

This is particularly true when it comes to public policy relative to work, wages, protection or the lack thereof from so-called "free markets," home ownership, education, nutrition... the list goes on. So far this year in the U. S. we have seen the loss of over 600,000 jobs.

Home foreclosures continue to soar. During the last chaotic week, we've witnessed the near meltdown of our financial markets, a series of events that rivals the circumstances preceding the Great Depression. Major, historic financial institutions failed or have been bought for a song.

People who argue ad nauseum for unregulated, "free markets" make assumptions about human nature that simply don't hold up.

When living in an effective community in which the rights, if the needs and dreams of all are to be honored, common values, mores and standards of behavior need to be regulated.

We are now witnessing the results of a policy trend committed to deregulation that has been in play since at least 1980. Completely "free markets" might be something to consider if we all were operating from the same position of strength and opportunity. But, of course, this is not the case today and will never be the case.

Regulation imposes safety guards against the exploitation that always results when systems are built to maximize profit for one group at the expense of other groups, usually much larger in sheer numbers, but much weaker in economic power and political influence.

No system of regulation is perfect. But, it doesn't need to be perfect, just workable, consistent and engaged in the important work of defining and enforcing standards of fairness and equity for everyone.

Consider the subprime mortgage crisis. Lots of people in this country have been talked into or better, pressured into mortgage agreements that allowed them to purchase homes far beyond their ability to pay. The agreements were designed not to assist the prospective homeowner, but the lender. In fact, some deals worked better for lenders when agreements failed after a couple of years thanks to credits and write offs that were built into the systems at work in such real estate transactions. Variable rate mortgages, coupled with sub-prime approaches to financing the deals at the outset, vaulted the nation to the brink of absolute economic disaster.

Greed kills.

Possibly home buyers should have been smarter. But, really now, let's face it, that is not what the system required or even desired. And then, there is the nation's attitude toward home ownership as an essential element in realizing the "American dream." Since the mid-1990s, we've observed a commitment on the part of the federal government in both Clinton and Bush administrations to open up home ownership to more and more Americans.

As this policy unfolded, it became clear that a major part of this commitment would be financed by cutting funding from programs designed for the poorest Americans -- we watched as the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) cut funding for programs aimed at people who likely will never own homes to benefit those who might play in the amazing expansion of ownership made possible by unregulated markets.

While everyone agrees that the number of Americans owning homes needs to increase, we grew more and more uncomfortable with how the new process was being funded with both public and private dollars. Furthermore, our government explicitly and implicitly encouraged private sector funders to get in the game on terms that were favorable to lenders, but not necessarily the new homeowners.

No regulation.

"Free markets" often cut people to shreds because they are not designed with the community, with everyone in mind.

(By the way, can we agree that Wall Street is not the community for which we are most concerned here?)

Greed kills. Paul had it right when he warned that "the love of money is the root of all evil." I'm sure I'll catch it big time from lots of folks who read here who believe that freedom in the marketplace is the most sacred value of all. Frankly, if you can make that argument this week, I know there is nothing I can say to change your mind.

But, I'm not writing for you. I continue to post because I believe sound public policy devoted to justice and fairness will be a big part of any solution to the problems facing both the poorest of the poor and the middle class in our nation. And, it is crucial to sustaining workable communities.

In fact, I'm trying to get these two groups to see how much they have in common these days! If these two groups ever partner with one another and consider how their mutual self-interests could work together, we'll wake up in a new America.

One last note. Through all sorts of situations and circumstances from Y2K to 9-11 to the War in Iraq to escalating fuel costs to our current financial crisis, the poor serve as my instructors.

People who know grinding poverty teach me how to cope and to live one day at a time. Their friendship and faith is a priceless gift in my life.

Markets come and go.

The faithful endure.

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This page contains only one entry posted to Everyday Citizen on September 22, 2008 12:09 PM.

The blog post previous to it is titled "Kansas Senate Race: Jim Slattery on Pat Roberts' Smears"

The post that follows this one is titled "For Those Who Would Change the Wind"

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