What is a Crisis of Trust?

We hear a lot these days about the current financial crisis being one of trust. Banks don’t trust each other any more, lenders don’t trust borrowers, investors don’t trust who or what they are investing in. That is all true, but it does not get to the heart of the matter.

What is trust? It is confidence that commitments will be honored, that agreements will be kept. Which gives us an indication of the true nature of the capitalist economy.

Classical economics has many virtues, but it has also saddled capitalism with the concept of homo economicus, the egotistical, self-serving economic actor as the core of the capitalist system. This is a gross misconception. Capitalism is not built upon self-serving egotists but upon people willing to make commitments to each other, both short-term and long-term, regarding their economic resources. That is what credit and debt, borrowing and lending, are all about. The commitments are mutual. When these commitments are reneged on on the scale they have been in the current crisis, the system fails.

Therefore it is a much better characterization of capitalism to label it the “commitment economy” rather than the “greed economy,” which is what the Left paints it as, thanks to classical economics.

Capitalism is commitments, not greed. The trust one hears so much about is trust in keeping commitments. Capitalism, friends, is the commitment economy.

Anticapitalism as Default Mode

What explains the uphill battle Republicans have in convincing people that their agenda is better for the economy than that of the Democrats? What explains the ease with which Democrats can pretend that economic woes are attributable to Republicans, in the face of all evidence to the contrary?

One may blame the monolithic left-wing mainstream media for the one-sided coverage they provide on the issue, but that in fact begs the question a bit. For how is it that the media can come to be so one-sided?

The bottom line is, human beings have a basic anti-capitalist bias that is the default mode in the face of any crisis. Facts don’t matter, emotions take over, and no amount of explanation seems to penetrate. Democrats simply appeal to this emotion.

Like taking candy from a baby.

What’s Behind the Meltdown

The stock markets continue to plummet in unnerving fashion. The blame for it is centering on the “bailout” package — was it too little too late, was it too much, was the passage of it a dispiriting display of bad leadership. I think it goes deeper than that. The bailout was never meant to solve the problem, only to stave off something worse. But what it most of all did was spark the fear of ever-more government takeover of the private sector, which combined with polls indicating Democratic victory in both Congress and the Presidency in November, has spooked the investor class to get out while the getting’s good. Let’s face it: if the Democrats win in November, this bailout package is going to look like libertarianism compared to the stuff they’re going to pull to “solve the crisis.”

The Bottom Line: False Weights and Measures

At bottom, the issue involved in this financial crisis is false weights and measures. That is, a standard of valuation that is manipulated, making people believe they are receiving something other (of lesser value) than they actually are.

The Bible has this to say about such false weights and measures:

Le 19:36 Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.
De 25:13 ¶ Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small.
De 25:14 Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small.
De 25:15 But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
De 25:16 For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Pr 11:1 ¶ A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.
Pr 16:11 ¶ A just weight and balance are the LORD’S: all the weights of the bag are his work.
Pr 20:23 ¶ Divers weights are an abomination unto the LORD; and a false balance is not good.
Eze 45:10 Ye shall have just balances, and a just ephah, and a just bath.
Eze 45:11 The ephah and the bath shall be of one measure, that the bath may contain the tenth part of an homer, and the ephah the tenth part of an homer: the measure thereof shall be after the homer.
Eze 45:12 And the shekel shall be twenty gerahs: twenty shekels, five and twenty shekels, fifteen shekels, shall be your maneh.
Mic 6:10 Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable?
Mic 6:11 Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights?
Ho 12:7 ¶ He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress.

In the current financial muckup, this falsification of the standard of value occurred thanks to a complete failure of functioning by the leading credit rating agencies. Subprime mortgages were packaged into bonds that were passed off as AAA — the highest rating possible. Given the great demand for such safe-haven assets in a global economy awash in liquidity, these bonds were purchased like hotcakes, making for ever-increasing demand for subprime mortgages to be packaged into these bonds (CDOs, MBSs). They thus spread throughout the world. The questions which now arise are:

  1. How many banks and other lending agencies have these assets on their balance sheets, and to what degree?
  2. What is the degree that each of these assets is contaminated with subprime mortgages which either have already failed or will fail?

The recent “bailout” package passed by the Congress is intended to get this auditing process under way in the US. The question is, will it accomplish what it is supposed to, without subverting the system even further? Be that as it may: who is going to take care of this process in the rest of the world? And what is the best way to take care of it? It is the mother of all tangled messes.

The bottom line is, this was a catastrophe from start to finish egged on and smiled upon by the government, in pursuit of social justice, of Joe Biden’s “fairness.” It is the government that is supposed to supervise the functioning of such services as credit rating, simply as a matter of averting fraud. Instead of doing that, it turned a blind eye on the whole procedure, the better to achieve the stated goal of affordable housing.

Capitalism was set to work under the constraints set by the government. Now that government has nearly destroyed capitalism, it is going to fix it. How: with more of the same?

The Book of Amos speaks of a judgement upon a nation addicted to false weights and measures:

ch 8, verse 4: Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail,
5 Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?
6 That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?

Amos’s Israel was judged and found wanting; it was given over to conquest by the Assyrians.

What judgement awaits us? For we keep voting in people who, this time around in the name of the poor, love the false balance, the small ephah and the great shekel, who have hung this catastrophe around our necks and then blame the faithful servant (Wall Street) who in fact carried out their bidding; who want us to return them to office for more of the same.

That in itself is judgement I cringe to think about.

More than an Analogy?

One of the themes running through my head regarding a description of the current financial crisis is that of the similarity of subprime mortgages to HIV. Just as HIV gets in the bloodstream and destroys immune capacity, subprime mortgages were packaged together in MSOs and CDOs which, circulating through the banking system, in turn have destroyed the banking system’s capacity to deal with bad risk.

But the analogy is even more appropriate given the latest news that Barney Frank’s boyfriend was the one in charge of coming with the affordable housing schemes at Fannie Mae that precipitated this HIV infection of the capitalist bloodstream.

Makes one shudder just to think about it.