The Confidence Game

Terrific essay by James Grant on confidence, or the lack thereof, in capitalism:

"In disclosing plans to buy a quarter-trillion dollars of bank stock in the name of the American taxpayer, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson harped on confidence. "Today, there is a lack of confidence in our financial system, a lack of confidence that must be conquered," he said on Tuesday.

What Mr. Paulson did not get around to mentioning was the excess of confidence that preceded the shortfall. Under the spell of soaring house prices (and before that, of stock prices), Americans trusted the things they ought to have doubted. But markets are cyclical, and there is always a new day. In compensating fashion, people will eventually doubt the things they ought to have trusted. Investment opportunity follows disillusionment. It’s complacency that precedes bear markets.

If the confidence deficit seems so high, it’s because the preceding confidence surplus was full to overflowing. People suspended critical judgment. They accepted at face value the pretensions of central bankers and the competence of investment bankers. Not one professional investor in 50, probably, doubted that wads of subprime mortgages could be refashioned into bonds that were just as creditworthy as U.S. Treasurys."

Good stuff, as always, from Grant.


The Confidence Game
There used to be too much of it. Now there’s not enough. James Grant argues that the real lack of confidence is in Washington, with the administration losing faith in capitalism.
WSJ, OCTOBER 18, 2008

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