Michael E. Lewitt is the editor of The HCM Market Letter and a money manager.
The Bush Administration's early indecisiveness in handling the credit crisis left the road open for Europe to seize the mantle of economic intellectual leadership away from the United States in recent days. So the closet socialists in Europe ended up teaching the free market ideologues in Washington how to tame the beast of runaway greed. The heads of at least some of America's largest banks and investment banks must have been a little shocked and extremely unhappy when they were told--not asked--that the U.S. government was becoming their newest (and in many cases their largest) shareholder. After all, some of these institutions--JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs in particular--showed no signs of being in need of government assistance or capital. But in order to play team ball, they were required, along with their weaker brethren, to accept government money and government restrictions on their pay, their ability to pay dividends, and other aspects of their business. Now their business models, which were already badly shaken by the crisis in confidence, has been turned on its head. Wall Street will not be the same for many years, at least until the handcuffs come off, memories fade, and the current generation that is living through this scare dies off. Free market acolytes are up in arms, but it was free market orthodoxy run-amok that led Washington and Wall Street to place America's economic health in harm's way. It is deeply ironic that an administration that was supposed to be the heir to Reagonomics became the one to draw down the curtain on cowboy capitalism. But markets always consume themselves, and the same can be said for orthodoxies.
--Michael E. Lewitt