Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The opinions expressed here are her own.
The past month’s turmoil in U.S. and global financial markets has spawned several articles tolling a death knell for capitalism. Some said that the crisis is proof that capitalism never worked, others opined that the solutions to the problems will end capitalism.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of capitalism’s death are greatly exaggerated. Although Washington is using non-market solutions in an attempt to unfreeze the credit markets, they have not succeeded, and are unlikely to be permanent. The next administration, Republican or Democratic, might take over more of the economy. But if one country in our global economy proceeds down an unsuccessful socialist road, others will demonstrate the effectiveness of capitalist measures—just as America led the way with tax cuts in the 1980s.
The present crisis started not because capitalism was allowed to run its selfish course, but because the government interfered with the operation of private businesses and allowed excessive growth of money and credit.
Take housing, where the crisis began. The government interfered with private decision-making by requiring banks to make loans to people who could not afford them, through the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. It forced banks to improve lending and service to borrowers in poorer neighborhoods, including people with poor credit histories. Some of these borrowers only qualified only for subprime mortgages, which had introductory low rates that eventually rose.