Back in the 1990s, a former cabinet minister from New Zealand named Maurice McTigue went on a world speaking tour. His topic was how subsidies keep farmers poor. When subsidies and regulations were cut, sheep farmers were forced to innovate. They stepped up to the plate and ended up becoming much more prosperous.
The really interesting part of the story is that it wasn’t a libertarian or conservative government that cut off the subsidies. It was a left-leaning government that simply ran out of money. If they’d had a choice, they would never have had the nerve to take such desperate measures.
I bring this up because many of the solutions and rapid advancements in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak today are basically deregulation.
Just get the government out of the way, and suddenly the same perfectly serviceable mask it would have been illegal to use in a hospital before can now protect our doctors and nurses. Just give patients the right to try and doctors the right to offer compassionate use of new treatments, and life-saving advancements leap forward.
Or, as the tech giants have shown, innovate faster than governments can regulate, and amazing things are possible.
You may recall that the term laissez faire comes from the demand of 1681 French businessmen to simply be left alone in order to create prosperity. This lesson has been learned and forgotten again and again over the centuries.
Given the open hostility to laissez-faire capitalism among most educators these days, I’m not sure the lesson will even sink in, let alone stick this time. But who knows? If more freedom turns out to be the solution to the outbreak, maybe a few honest people will get a clue.
Even if that doesn’t happen among the population at large, however, market-oriented politicians may be able to seize the opportunity and run with it.
It may well be that once that the laissez-faire genie is out of the bottle, it will be hard to stuff him back in.
That has investment implications.
For now, those would seem to be mostly in medical fields related to the current situation. Going forward, this could become a trend that reaches much further and wider. What happens if the Trump administration uses the COVID-19 crisis to suspend or repeal more regulations, break up or remove more bureaucracy, and incent and reward more innovation? Emergency orders given to the FDA might be rescinded as soon as peak infection has passed… or they might not. If the benefits of laissez faire become blindingly obvious, emergency measures could become permanent. The wave of regulatory relief could spread to other parts of the economy… possibly even reaching the resource sector.
Imagine what might happen if certain minerals are deemed essential to this new “war effort.”
Of course, bailouts and easy money are spreading even faster than the virus, so I’m not predicting a new golden age of laissez faire. I’m just pointing out that, for better or for worse, the rules under which businesses operate in the US are changing suddenly—and potentially permanently.
This will create opportunities for those who can spot them.
Honestly, I’m not the right person to identify all the opportunities a new era of deregulation could create. I’ll look for those that fall in my areas of expertise, but you’ll want to look for ideas from other sources as well.
I don’t really read other investment newsletters, so I don’t have any recommendations on that front. I’m sure my friend Doug Casey will have ideas over at InternationalMan.com. I’ll let you know if I see anything else I can feel confident about sharing.
Regardless, the time to start thinking ahead is now.
If we watch for opportunities to develop as governments in the US and other countries change their policies, we’ll have better odds of getting in early on the big winners that may ensue.
That’s my take,