As I write, news is coming across the wire that a bill to bail out the financial industry is likely to pass. That is a relief. We have not seen a real financial panic for 80 years -- but that doesn't mean we couldn't. Just as the psychology that creates bubbles (whether for tulips or real estate) does not change over time, neither does the psychology that stampedes for safety during crashes. If large numbers of people transfer their money to Treasury bonds (as many appear to be doing already), the pool of capital available for business and personal loans will dry up and America's economy will find out what a 21st century depression looks like.
Conservatives rightly detest government bailouts of any kind. It violates our free market principles. But if some government rescue is not forthcoming, a worse scenario (from the conservative perspective) is very likely. We could slide into a deep recession just weeks before an election. As of today, banks have stopped lending to one another. When voters look around for someone to blame, they will find a fable offered by Democrats. That fable goes like this: The Republicans presided over an "anything goes" party during the Bush administration and failed to properly regulate the superrich of Wall Street. They did this because they are capitalists who disbelieve in regulation. Democrats, never wild about capitalism, will correct the lax oversight of the Republican regime and make it possible for happy days to be here again. By a 2 to 1 margin, according to a CNN poll, voters blame Republicans more than Democrats for the present crisis.
Democratic spin is working. Republicans need to wake up.
At the root of this mess is not the failure of capitalism but political interference in the market. It was Democrats who pushed for and passed the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 that forced banks to serve their "whole communities" and required them to offer loans to people who were not credit worthy. In 1995, the Clinton administration's Department of Housing and Urban Development, headed by Andrew Cuomo, implemented new regulations requiring banks to meet numerical quotas in lending and demonstrate the diversity of their borrowers.
While housing prices were rising, the bad loans were hidden. But as soon as prices began to fall and adjustable ARMs kicked in, the defaults began.