"Cowboy capitalism," down but never out

In December, in somber rather than triumphant tones, the leading conservative economic commentator Martin Wolf of the British Financial Times warned that “What is happening in credit markets today is a huge blow to the credibility of the Anglo-Saxon model of transaction-oriented financial capitalism.” He went on to warn that when the crisis hits (as it now has) “that will certainly mean the end of the neoliberal consensus that has dominated politics for almost a generation.”

Or, as Newsweek’s Howard Fineman wrote this week in more informal words: “The era of cowboy capitalism has died, largely of self-inflicted wounds.” I don’t take those words as prophecy — but they are certainly shrewd warnings of the political things that may come. And, it is true that it is harder this week than it was last week to persuasively argue pure free-market principles if one has endorsed the $700 billion bailout and partial nationalization of the credit industry (and I do emphatically endorse the bailout as the only available and preferable alternative to the calamitous economic status quo).