The 2009 bank bailouts turned government intervention in the market into a flashpoint for public disgust. That is understandable, because we have been left—as Eliot Spitzer argues—with socialized risk, privatized benefit, institutions too big to fail, incompetent regulators, and deficient corporate governance. But it is unfortunate, too, because—as Spitzer also argues—good regulatory policy is essential to making markets and firms work efficiently, equitably, and in service of fundamental public values.
Three responses to Spitzer raise issues of politics, ideology, and policy. On politics, Sarah Binder, Andrew Gelman, and John Sides argue that an existing “permissive consensus” allows elected officials to craft better policy, but those officials are unlikely to face electoral fallout for failing to do so. On ideology, Dean Baker argues that Spitzer is wrong to frame the issue as a defense of government “intervention.” Governments always make economic rules. The real issues are: which rules? and who benefits? Finally, on policy, Robert Johnson argues that rebuilding confidence in government requires that we use ethical standards in assessing economic policies, and that meeting those standards will require freeing elected officials “from the chains of fundraising.”
Spitzer’s article grows out of a fall lecture at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics. The lecture is part of large project on institutional corruption that Center Director Lawrence Lessig has initiated. Over the next year, Boston Review and the Safra Center will be collaborating to publish a number of the lectures in this important series.
Politics and markets are also large themes in two other essays. Jenny Aker and Isaac Mbiti consider the explosion of mobile phones in Africa, which shows some promise of jump-starting economic development. But how much good can mobiles phones do without appropriate regulation and provision of public goods? And Sidney Mintz reflects on his fieldwork on Haitian markets, where political brutality betrayed extraordinary human efforts to build a decent world.
Finally, we mourn the loss of Howard Zinn and Carl Kaysen, our friends, and friends of Boston Review. Zinn and Kaysen were very different from one another. But from their strikingly different perspectives, these remarkable men both lived lives of public commitment to peace. We will miss them, and miss, too, the powerful examples they provided for all of us.
—Deborah Chasman and Joshua Cohen