Archive for the ‘Glassman’ Category

Rot at the core: When will Tom Woods and other "Free Market intellectuals" have second thoughts about the state grant of limited liability to shareholders?

March 4th, 2009 3 comments

Tom Woods, in his recent “Another “Free Market” Intellectual Has Second Thoughts” post at the Mises Economics Blog, notes with great disappointment that Richard Posner is about to publish a book that will apparently abandon the free market and call for greater government intervention.

While I share Mr. Wood’s disappointment that Posner and others are not more vigorously defending free markets, I suggested in comments on Mr. Wood’s post that perhaps free market intellectuals are not yet really pulling their own weight in examining and describing the flaws in the market system that contributed to the current financial crisis, or in explaining the types of reforms that would actually be appropriate.  In particular, it seems to me that the role played by the state grant of limited liability to corporate shareholders in facilitating flawed and irresponsible risk-taking by executives and traders, as well as in perversely fuelling a vicious cycle of rent-seeking and further counterproductive regulation, should be much more seriously examined. 

In short, I believe that, as argued by James Glassman and William Nolan in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, unless and until owners and executives have “more skin in the game”, we will continue to ride a tiger of selfish risk-shifting, moral hazard, and ever more disruptive government regulation.

I copy below my comments on Tom Wood’s post:

Tom, it’s hard to judge an unpublished book, but I suspect you’re
right to do so. Has Posner given any more solid clues as to where he’s

However, as it’s clear that things went wrong, I can’t help but
wonder when can we expect to hear more from you and others on what
government factors (besides the Fed, Freddie and Fannie) “fatally
deformed” the financial markets, and laying out a “new, genuinely
free-market paradigm for the economy”. Isn’t there a good book or two
in there from Austrians?

It seems to me that that James Glassman and William Nolan have a key
insight into the type of reforms needed in a WSJ piece that refers to
von Hayek. They argue that “an irresponsible attitude toward risk led
to terrible mistakes in judgment” and conclude that “bankers need more
skin in the game”
. How to move in that direction?  Glassman and Nolan
point to the success of the Brown Brothers Harriman partnership, which
lacks the limited liability feature of modern corporations, and specifically recommend that governments recognize (by less burdensome laws and regulations) that entities like partnerships where owners face unlimited personal liability are more responible risk managers.

As I have argued in a series of posts, starting with my review of
Huebert and Block‘s criticisms of Long
, the state grant of limited
liability to shareholders (in particular the grant vis-a-vis those
injured by corporate acts and involuntary creditors, which is a pure
grant from the state and cannot be contracted for) has led to a number
of perverse results, which can be fairly clearly seen in the financial