Excerpts from Thomas Sowell, Magic numbers in Politics:
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 under 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 catcher’s 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 catcher’s mitts are going to cost more.
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. . .
Politicians may not know much — or care much — about economics, but they know politics and they care a lot about keeping their jobs. So a great distracting hue and cry has gone up that all this was due to the market not being regulated enough by the government. In reality, it was precisely the government regulators who forced the banks to lower their lending standards.
The other big lie is that this was a failure of economists and others to foresee that the housing boom would turn to bust and set off financial repercussions across the economy.
In reality, everybody and his brother saw it coming and said so — including yours truly in the Wall Street Journal of May 26, 2005.