Taking a page from the United States, Argentina announced plans last week to stimulate its stagnant economy with no-cost housing loans. The idea is to boost growth by intervening in the supposedly "free" economy. It won't work.
Japan's decades of infrastructure spending, government-sponsored Fannie and Freddie, subsidies for green energy, automaker bailouts and the student-loan bubble itself all show that intervention into the economy destroys wealth.
The only thing government meddling in the economy leads to is further government meddling in the economy.
In the wake of Enron's 2001 collapse, for example, Congress passed Sarbanes-Oxley, heralded as the nation's most comprehensive and stringent financial regulation, the law added significant costs to public corporations or those looking to go public. That intervention was amended less than a decade later by the even more destructive Dodd-Frank in 2009, not to mention calls for further controls today.
"The economy" is not some abstract academic metric on an Excel spreadsheet. It is simply the way free people trade, relate, interact and live. Once you accept the notion that government can control and intervene into the economy -- that is, individual's lives -- literally anything goes.
Along with socialist Venezuela, Argentina criminalized trade, deploying tax inspectors with dollar-sniffing police dogs that hunt for those wishing to hold currencies besides their rapidly devaluing peso.
A myriad of "protective" regulations on imports and production prompted shortages in items ranging from electrical equipment to bananas, leaving hospitals without syringes, prescription drugs or rubber gloves. According to The Wall Street Journal, even Argentine Olympic athletes are unable to get the bikes and rowing gear needed to compete at the coming London Games.
In the name of "the public good," Argentina's government nationalized private pensions, as well as industries ranging from its newsprint manufacturer to YPF S.A. (YPF),
When government is permitted to control the economy, there's literally no end. Consider that Argentina filed criminal charges, with the threat of jail, against economists who publish inflation estimates that don't match the government's wholly inaccurate figures. The official government rate of 9.9% is far below the 25% of private estimates, meaning that Argentines are losing about 2% of their savings every month.
The government's remedy? You guessed it, more controls, including laws requiring contracts like real-estate transactions to be denominated in pesos rather than dollars. Think that'll help?
If such basic infringements into private liberty sounds like a farfetched impossibility in the U.S., consider that, as we wrote about a few weeks back, New York City is considering a ban on large-size soft drinks, coffee-based beverages, and movie theater popcorn, all intended to "protect health", just as Argentina's interventions were supposedly designed to "protect jobs" or our Federal housing bailouts were intended to "protect against foreclosure."
The term "free market" means free from government. That does not mean free to steal, defraud, poison or violate rights, but to trade in a marketplace where force is removed and placed under objective control.
Because government is that force, any intervention into the economy, be it in housing, energy, healthcare or corporations not only destroys wealth but creates even more controls. In New York, we're now regulating what you can eat. In Buenos Aries, they're regulating what one can say. Indeed, anything goes. It's not hard to see the very dangerous slippery slope.
That's the scary realization everybody needs to understand. When the economy isn't free, neither are you.—Jonathan Hoeing is managing member at Capitalistpig Hedge Fund LLC