Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Hard World

Arnold Kling links to a nice piece by Summers on the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac fiasco.

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.

The bottomline is clear

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.

Addendum: Tyler adds

He always had a talent for the bottom line...Larry Summers was my professor for Macro II and every lecture was a joy. "Lecture" isn't even the right word, it was more like turning on a faucet.