In the wake of the five year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Fox News is rewriting American economic history, claiming that government interventions to keep the economy from entering free-fall were unnecessary and damaging.
On the September 17 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto and former Reagan economic advisor Art Laffer discussed their years-long disapproval of the government rescue packages instituted and implemented in late 2008 and 2009 to arrest the free-falling financial industry, save the auto industry, and stimulate the economy. During their exchange, Laffer claimed that government intervention was unnecessary and impeded recovery:
LAFFER: We were saying that the last thing you want to do is suppress a body's immune system when you're sick. It's just stupid, and the one time we should rely on the economy's immune system, called "free markets", is exactly when we're in the midst of a crisis.
LAFFER: You know, Neil, whenever people make decisions when they are either panicked or drunk the consequences are rarely attractive. And so it is with all of this stimulus, bailout, taking over auto companies. It would have been over in six months if they had done nothing.
The argument that the crisis would have corrected itself is devoid of any factual basis and ignores the opinions of experts.
On September 15, 2008, the day that Lehman Brothers filed bankruptcy, the Dow Jones industrial average suffered its largest single-day loss since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Over the next two weeks regulators and legislators cobbled together policies to save failing financial markets. On September 29, 2008, when the first draft of a $700 billion financial bailout failed to pass the House of Representatives, the Dow Jones suffered its worst ever single-day loss.
As the federal government was organizing its financial rescue, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, many economists voiced disapproval with the design of the bailout. Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman joined the chorus calling to reshape the bailouts to hold risk takers accountable and protect the public against losses. However, at no point did any significant group of experts or economists argue that the government should have done nothing. In an April 2012 Huffington Post article on the dwindling popularity of the bank bailouts, columnist Mark Gongloff noted that most experts recognized the necessity of a federal rescue in the wake of Lehman's collapse. From the article:
For what it's worth, most experts think the bailout prevented an even deeper crash and economic depression. Then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson tested the counterfactual by letting Lehman Brothers croak, and the result was a face-peeling market firestorm that nearly took down AIG -- the massive insurance company whose bailout is so unpopular now.
Indeed, Cavuto and Laffer's unwillingness to recognize the important role played by financial bailouts in stabilizing a subset of the economy is even at odds with opinions fit for print at FoxNews.com.
Cavuto and Laffer focused most of the segment on the financial bailout, but lumped the successful auto rescue and economic stimulus into their fabricated retelling of economic history. Contrary to the anti-government narrative forwarded by Fox News, the stimulus packages instituted by the Bush and Obama administrations were widely regarded as not going far enough. Meanwhile, the auto rescue remains so popular in hindsight that it may have effectively moved vital swing states toward President Obama in the 2012 Election.
Media Matters has documented a long track record of Fox News' attacks on stimulus programs, which are sometimes based on entirely fabricated evidence. The right-wing myth that economic stimulus failed is a common talking point used to disparage the fundamental role of government. The argument that stimulus was an unnecessary waste of taxpayer resources directly contradicts prevailing economic opinion.
Cavuto and Laffer's denial of the necessity of some forms of government intervention continues a right-wing media campaign against any role of government in the economy, even in cases when it is absolutely vital for stability, growth, or recovery.