Friday, April 24, 2009

Free Markets (16) - Preventing Mistakes

Advocates for market regulation are really wanting to prevent people from making mistakes. This is a noble ideal, but is impossible to apply in practice. Regulators would need two forms of knowledge to prevent mistakes when buying and selling.

  1. They would need to know what everyone should want and need. Parents may know what is good for their children, but a market regulator can never know everything that other people need.
  2. They would need perfect knowledge of the future.
Market regulation assumes the regulators have exceptional knowledge of both human needs and perfect knowledge of the future. These godlike regulators simply do not exist.

Political power amplifies the impact of mistakes. Ordinary people make mistakes that affect themselves. They sometimes make mistakes that harm their families. Politicians and regulators can make mistakes that damage the entire economy and harm the whole of society.

Business Cycles
The business cycle is caused when widespread mistakes are made worse by government policies. Ups and downs in economic activity are the result of changes in human mood. There will always be times of widespread exuberance and times of mass fear. Markets reflect these moods, but do cause them.

Joseph explained to Pharaoh that the seven good years would be followed by seven bad years. This is normal. During good years, people naively assume they will continue forever. They live it up, when they should be putting the surplus aside for the bad years that will inevitability follow.

People decide how they will respond to changes in moods and season. We should not blame markets for the mistakes of fickle and foolish of people. Given time they will work themselve out.

The business cycle gets serious when governments amplify the mistakes of ordinary people. The laws that govern the modern banking system are flawed. This allows banks to exaggerate the business cycle by inflating the currency during times of exuberance and contracting leverage in response to fear.

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