What if the government cut Freddie, Fannie, Bear, AIG and the others loose and let them do what other businesses do on hard times: renegotiate with creditors and revalue assets? Would there be another Great Depression? Not likely. What turned a recession into the Great Depression was the Federal Reserve's contraction of the money supply. I doubt they'd make that mistake twice.
Public officials say the big companies must be saved to prevent a devastating credit "lock." Really? Without a federal bailout, lending wouldn't have resumed? The market wouldn't have sorted it out? Prices wouldn't have found a more solid floor? We'll never know.
We do know that the taxpayer will buy -- Probably for too much money, because the private sellers will fool the government managers -- at least $700 billion in "illiquid" assets. Where will this money come from: taxation, borrowing or the printing press? What will that do to our economic well-being?
Crisis is the friend of the State. The politicians are desperate to be seen as "showing leadership," so we're surely in for a new round of government interventions. Watch for the equivalent of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. There'll be much posturing about how the new regulations "will keep this from ever happening again," but that's more nonsense because the root problem is not lack of regulation. It's government social engineering of the housing market, which will be unchanged.
This is the path to stagnation and poverty. As Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek taught, markets are too complicated for planners to know enough to plan them. The relevant information, scattered unspoken among billions of market participants, is beyond the bureaucrats' reach.
We do need protection from reckless businessmen. But there is only one way to provide that: market discipline. That means: no privileges, and no bailouts.