Tossing Aside History, Conventions and a Few Cliches

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Historic. Breathtaking. Revolutionary.

It would be hard to find a superlative that would overstate how much the parameters and contours of American economic policy have been reshaped over the past two weeks.

The degree of government intervention into the workings of the private marketplace is unprecedented. Three giant financial institutions taken over. Government purchases of vast quantities of hard-to-sell assets from banks, investment banks and anyone else whose demise might threaten the financial system. Trading outlawed in an entire class of securities. A government guarantee extended to a whole new category of investments.

Laws have been stretched until they are barely recognizable -- like the one, from the days of the gold standard, that authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to buy and sell the precious metal, now used to authorize a wholly new insurance program for money-market funds.

Roles have been expanded well beyond anything that could have been imagined only weeks ago, like the central bank taking control of a giant insurance company.

And tossed aside have been long-standing conventions, such as the quaint ideal that independent agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve should keep a proper distance from the White House and the executive branch.

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