Thomas Sowell
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Back in the days of the Soviet Union, two Russian economists who had never lived in a country with a free market economy understood something about market economies that many others who have lived in such economies all their lives have never understood. Nikolai Shmelev and Vladimir Popov said: "Everything is interconnected in the world of prices, so that the smallest change in one element is passed along the chain to millions of others."

What does that mean? It means that a huge increase in the demand for ice cream can mean higher prices for catchers' mitts, among other things.

When more cows are needed to produce more milk to make ice cream, then fewer cows will be slaughtered and that means less cowhide available to make baseball gloves. Supply and demand mean that catchers' mitts are going to cost more.

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While this may be easy enough to understand, its implications are completely lost on many people in politics and in the media. If everything is connected to everything else in a market economy, then it makes no sense to have laws and policies that declare some given goal to be a "good thing," without regard to the repercussions, which spread out in all directions, like waves that spread across a pond when you drop a rock in the water.

Our current economic meltdown results from the federal government, under both Democrats and Republicans, declaring home ownership to be a "good thing" and treating the percentage of families who own their own home as if it was some sort of magic number that had to be kept growing-- without regard to the repercussions on other things.

We are now living with those repercussions, which include the worst unemployment in decades. That is the price we are paying for increasing home ownership from 64 percent to 69 percent.

How did we get from home ownership to 15 million unemployed Americans? By ignoring the fact that there was a reason why only 64 percent of families owned their own home. More people would have liked to be home owners but did not qualify under mortgage lending standards that had been in place for decades.

Politicians to the rescue: Federal regulatory agencies leaned on banks to lend to people they were not lending to before-- or else. The "or else" included not having their business decisions approved by the regulators, which could cost them more money than making risky loans.

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Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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