Friday, July 18, 2008

The best form of "Creative Capitalism" is... Capitalism

As a recap, "creative capitalism" is Bill Gates' term for "social capitalism". With the meltdown and bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, here's a response from Lawrence Summers:

What went wrong? The illusion that the companies were doing virtuous work made it impossible to build a political case for serious regulation. When there were social failures the companies always blamed their need to perform for the shareholders. When there were business failures it was always the result of their social obligations. Government budget discipline was not appropriate because it was always emphasized that they were "private companies.” But market discipline was nearly nonexistent given the general perception -- now validated -- that their debt was government backed. Little wonder with gains privatized and losses socialized that the enterprises have gambled their way into financial catastrophe.

I wonder how general the lesson here might be. My fear is fairly general. Inherent in the multiple objectives urged for creative capitalists is a loss of accountability with respect to performance. The sense that the mission is virtuous is always a great club for beating down skeptics. When institutions have special responsibilities it is necessary that they be supported in competition to the detriment of market efficiency.

It is hard in this world to do well. It is hard to do good. When I hear a claim that an institution is going to do both, I reach for my wallet. You should too.

Read the whole thing.

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