Mr Bernanke’s grounding has given him the authority to dismiss those who view the meltdown through a moral lens and want to purge society for its excesses. Had he embraced this popular intuition, the US would now be following the UK into triple-dip recession. As Mr Bernanke noted in Texas shortly after Rick Perry, its governor, had all but threatened him with a lynch mob: “I am not a believer in the Old Testament theory of the business cycle.”As a general rule, any argument pushing for less government intervention on moral grounds in a weak economy should be viewed with suspicion. "Less is more" can be an acceptable rule for making decisions of a personal nature but in the realm of economic policy, it's often just bad advice. This is largely because of the two-sided nature of any monetary transaction: your spending is my income, public sector spending is private sector income.
A few years ago, economist Ben Friedman examined how morality intersects with economics and public policy. His view is that government intervention, in terms of its impact on the lives of citizens through its role in fostering economic growth, 'less' is definitely 'less':
A commonly held view is that government policy should try, insofar as it can, to avoid interfering with private economic initiative: the expectation of greater profits is ample incentive for a firm to expand production, or build a new factory, while the prospect of higher wages is likewise sufficient to encourage workers to seek out training or invest in their own education...The best that government can do (so the story goes) is minimize taxes, or safety regulations...The "right" pace of economic growth is whatever the market - that is, the aggregate of all private decisions - would deliver on its own.The point here is that public policy positively influences a society's moral character when it helps to raise living standards, which in turn affect the attitude of people toward themselves and encourages greater openness and tolerance.
But this familiar view too is seriously incomplete. To the extent that economic growth brings not only higher private incomes but also greater openness, tolerance, and democracy -- benefits we value but that the market does not price -- and to the extent that these unpriced benefits outweigh any unpriced harm that might ensue, market forces alone will systematically provide too little growth. Calling for government to stand aside while the market determines our economic growth ignores the vital role of public policy: the right rate of economic growth is greater than the purely market-determined rate, and the role of government policy is to foster it. (2005:14)
Also, on a separate yet related point, it's really hard to believe there's any good to be found in the popular view that government action should be avoided because it (allegedly) stifles private sector initiative. On this point, I think Bill White of the Bank for International Settlements makes a good point:
...faced with serious deflationary tendencies, all of the weapons in the macroeconomic arsenal should be used to their full effect to ensure that aggregate demand is maintained. The concept of "creative destruction" has a certain intuitive appeal, but it should be remembered that the phrase was coined well before the onset of the Great Depression.Reference
Friedman, B., The moral consequences of economic growth, 2005, New York, Knopf