Thursday, February 28, 2013

No Fiscal Discipline in the Stock Market

As the federal government belly flops into sequestration, the stock market merrily rolls along.  Europe is sinking into recession, an inevitable result of its austerity and deleveraging policies.  Japan is in recession, and has pledged to worship at the altar of monetary accommodation in an effort to revive its economy.  American consumers are creeped out by continued government dysfunction, continued economic dysfunction and an increase in Social Security taxes.  Retailers are reaching for the little paper bag in the seatback on front of them.  But stocks are delirious.

Of course, it's all because Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke yesterday swore up and down that central bank accommodation is next to godliness, or something to that effect.  If the most powerful agency in the United States government promised to subsidize you indefinitely, you'd be delirious, too. 

By ignoring real world problems, and flying high on the Fed's fiat paper meth lab, the market is letting Congress off the hook.  Without someone or something twisting their arms behind their backs, the members of Congress have little or no incentive to get real and work out the nation's fiscal problems.  The stock market has the leverage to make Congress devote its full attention to a problem. In the fall of 2008, when the financial system teetered on the brink, Congress voted down a rescue package.  The market promptly nosedived, and squashed 401(k) accounts from sea to shining sea.  Constituents deluged Congressional offices with negative commentary (that's putting it mildly).  Congress immediately reversed course and enacted the TARP rescue legislation.

Today, however, fed by the Fed with printed money, the market romps.  Congress fiddles.  And the rest of us get nervous about the smell of smoke that waffles through the air.  By not holding Congress accountable, the market enables government dysfunction.  The market can be quite effective when it imposes discipline.  But an undisciplined market is scary.

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