Monday, February 23, 2009

The Bad Ride in the Markets and Main Street

Since September the federal government has been busy. Very busy. But it has very little to show for all its efforts when it comes to Wall Street's and Main Street's reaction. Back in September, when Congress got together to roll up its sleeves and to heal the economy's woes, Wall Street was worried by the volatility of the market. Back then, the market strongly worried investors as it stood at the brink of going below 10,ooo points. Slightly 4 months later and we are threatened by a market that could (and likely, should) go below 7,000 points. The irony is that the plummeting market was a direct response to the government's "best efforts" to placate Wall Street's concerns. Instead of getting better, it has gotten markedly worse and has now reached 11 year lows.

Main Street has responded in a similar fashion. 2008 began with unemployment at a remarkably low 4.9 percent, which many economists describe as "full employment," when you consider seasonal and other factors that make "zero unemployment" an impossibility. Unemployment hovered around 5 percent through much of the year until about a month before the huge minimum wage increase (yes, there is a connection), in which it solidly went into the 5 to 6 percent area around that time. By September it had broken 6 percent and showed no interest in going back. This rise in unemployment joined the drop in the Market in leading to Washington coming "to the rescue." Main Street has responded to the massive bailouts of September and the "stimulus" of January by laying off even more people -- over 500,000 in the last couple of months alone. Main Street has responded to the Obama agenda by casting a new ballot -- pink slips -- and now unemployment is squarely in the 7 percent area and is moving its way towards double digits.

So why have both Main Street and Wall Street reacted so negatively? It is because both of these sectors are in the arena of enterprise. They fundamentally know that the more government controls things, the less efficient and productive those things become. The Bank of America is now on the brink of having 40 percent of its ownership be in the hands of government. Banks running like typically inefficient government institutions have done little or nothing to bolster consumer, financial, or business confidence. Fundamentally, I believe that at some level Americans know better. Free enterprise, limited government, and private property -- the founding principles of this Republic -- are better values than government control and ownership. There is a very good possibility that the businesses today are suffering from rather serious buyers remorse. I hope the government gets that message.

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review. Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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