Is ‘Too Big To Fail’ Too Big To Exist?

Originally posted November 12, 2008

“You’d be surprised with the friends you can buy with small change.” – J. J. Cale

I thought it was worth a few sardonic chuckles during the recent presidential campaign when Joe the Plumber (whose name was not really Joe and who wasn’t a licensed plumber anyway, as I understand it) and other folks on one end of the political spectrum were warning us about the dangers of socialism.

At the very moments we were all being warned about how some folks wanted government to take over our economic futures, our government was already taking over our economic futures. Call it loans, equity positions, shares, bailouts, hot fudge sundaes, whatever you want. The federal government’s intrusion into the private sector – is there really a private sector anymore? – is about as huge as it’s ever been.

I’m not an economist. I’m not a historian. I do read a lot and think at least a little. And as I see corporations continue to line up for government help with their designer hats in their hands, I begin to wonder a few things: First, will that assistance do any good in minimizing the effect of the economic crash that appears to be headed our way? Second, will there be similar assistance for the folks whose assets and liabilities total a lot less but whose economic straits are just as severe (in other words, regular folks, however you want to define them)? And third – and this might be the most important question of the three, rhetorical though it is: If an economic entity can be tagged as “too big to be allowed to fail” because of the damage its failure can do, shouldn’t that be a signal that it’s too big to be allowed to exist in the first place?

I’m not sure about any of that, honestly. I’m just throwing questions out. As the autumn has gone on, I – just like anyone else, I imagine – have absorbed the economic news and tried to learn more. For whatever value the observation may have, I find myself nodding in agreement more and more to the thoughts and writings of two specific individuals whose commentary I read regularly: Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek (and now CNN, too)* and Paul Krugman of Princeton University and the New York Times.

Here’s some music that’s somewhat related to the topic at hand:

“Pawnshop Man” by Copperhead [1973]

“Cash on the Barrelhead” by Joe Nichols & Rhonda Vincent [2003]

“Money Talks” by J. J. Cale with Christine Lakeland [1983]

According to the blog Orexis of Death, Copperhead was a band organized by guitarist John Cipollina after he left Quicksilver Messenger Service in 1970. The group “was signed to a major-label record deal by Clive Davis at Columbia and recorded its debut album, Copperhead, released in the spring of 1973. Unfortunately, Davis was fired from Columbia shortly after the album’s release, an action that doomed any developing band that had been signed under his aegis. The album went nowhere, and when Columbia refused to release their [sic] second album, Copperhead folded.” I like the album, especially “Pawnshop Man,” a lot.

The Joe Nichols/Rhonda Vincent track comes from Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers, a 2003 release that’s well worth picking up

The Cale track comes from Cale’s 1983 album, 8.

*In 2010, Zakaria left Newsweek and became the editor-at-large of Time magazine. Note added September 26, 2011.

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