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Many economists skeptical of bailout

Avi Zenilman Sun Sep 21, 8:58 AM ET IN Yahoo's POLITICO

Many of the same economists and opinion-makers who'd provided a bipartisan sheen of consensus to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's  previous moves have quickly begun casting doubts on the wisdom of a policy that would allow Treasury to purchase without oversight hundreds of billions of dollars of difficult-to-price assets from financial institutions. "We need to take a bold move. In that sense I think Paulson is right," Luigi Zingales, a Professor at the University of Chicago School of Business who wrote a widely circulated short essay titled "Why Paulson is Wrong," told Politico.

Zingales fears  that the Treasury bailout would effectively turn the entire financial sector into a Government Sponsored Enterprise, complete with the same murkiness and moral hazard that sunk Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "It might achieve the final outcome, but it will do so at an enormous cost," he said. "All the troubles we've seen with Fannie and Freddie would be seen again and again across the entire financial sector."

President Bush is "asking for a huge amount of power," said Nouriel Roubini, an economist at New York University who was among the first to predict the crisis. "He's saying, `Trust me, I'm going to do it right if you give me absolute control.' This is not a monarchy." (Roubini told the New York Times that despite these concerns, he also thought the plan could help stave off a recession.)

Paul Krugman, the Princeton University economist and liberal columnist for The New York Times who had until now been cautiously supportive of Paulson's and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's efforts to prop up the system, wrote that the new plan would be a taxpayer rip-off. "I hate to say this, but looking at the plan as leaked, I have to say no deal," he wrote on his blog at 4:46 p.m. Saturday. "Not unless Treasury explains, very clearly, why this is supposed to work, other than through having taxpayers pay premium prices for lousy assets."

Yves Smith, a longtime banker and contributor to the influential finance blog Naked Capitalism, published an angry post there titled, "Why You Should Hate The Treasury Bailout Proposal":

"Given that continuing to buy U.S. assets will come under increasingly harsh scrutiny overseas, the U.S. needs to bend over backwards to devise a plan that at least looks credible in terms of directing the funds that come from taxpayers and lenders to their highest and best uses and implementing reforms that will restore active and prudent oversight of financial firms," she wrote. "The administration's demand for a free pass, even if Congress unwisely goes along, is likely to backfire with our foreign creditors."

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Sebastian Mallaby, the center-right economic columnist for The Washington Post and scholar of the modern financial system, was equally dubious. "The plan is being marketed under false pretenses," he wrote in his Sunday column, rejecting comparisons of the plan to the Resolution Trust Corporation, which the government formed in response to the savings and loan crisis to purchase and sell off the bad loans made by bankrupted thrifts.

"The administration proposes to buy up bad loans before the lenders go bust," Mallaby noted, keeping the banks alive but doing little to solve the problem infecting the markets. "Bad loans are weighing down the financial system precisely because private-sector experts can't determine their worth. The government would have no better handle on the problem."

Justin Fox, Time magazine's top financial writer and columnist, also worried about the lack of an upside for the taxpayer. "What I still can't figure out is how Treasury hopes to structure the bailout so there's at least a chance of getting a fair return on that risk-taking," he wrote on his blog.

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Zingales, though, writes in "Why Paulson Is Wrong" that "For somebody like me who believes strongly in the free market system, the most serious risk of the current situation is that the interest of a few financiers will undermine the fundamental workings of the capitalist system. The time has come to save capitalism from the capitalists."

(My bold.)
I am glad to see that there is far from unanimous agreement  amongst popular economics writers in favor of this giant toxic waste dump on the taxpayer on behalf of the folks who brought us this disaster.  I am certain that there are better ways to "save the economy" if we only look for them.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Sep 21st, 2008 at 06:04:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Op-Ed Columnist - Cash for Trash - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com

The logic of the crisis seems to call for an intervention, not at step 4, but at step 2: the financial system needs more capital. And if the government is going to provide capital to financial firms, it should get what people who provide capital are entitled to -- a share in ownership, so that all the gains if the rescue plan works don't go to the people who made the mess in the first place.

That's what happened in the savings and loan crisis: the feds took over ownership of the bad banks, not just their bad assets. It's also what happened with Fannie and Freddie. (And by the way, that rescue has done what it was supposed to. Mortgage interest rates have come down sharply since the federal takeover.)

But Mr. Paulson insists that he wants a "clean" plan. "Clean," in this context, means a taxpayer-financed bailout with no strings attached -- no quid pro quo on the part of those being bailed out. Why is that a good thing? Add to this the fact that Mr. Paulson is also demanding dictatorial authority, plus immunity from review "by any court of law or any administrative agency," and this adds up to an unacceptable proposal.



Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Mon Sep 22nd, 2008 at 03:47:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This link has a tight synopsis and a call to action - and the phone numbers of the Congress...I don't usually like to call from here, but I am going to load up on Skype minutes and have at it.

We Gambled. You Pay. Jesus' General

Of course, there are some who think the wealthy do not deserve to take our piece of the American Dream:

...first thing on Monday morning, [everyone] needs to call their Representatives and Senators and say: No. Blank. Checks. For. Crooks.

Be as polite as you can be and don't use bad words. Personally, this injunction may limit the duration of my calls to under a thirtieth of a second, or shorter.

Congressional phone numbers.

Update: Scarecrow has more:
The most important condition to put on any bailout proposal is to impose a tax surcharge on the incomes of the wealthiest Americans to pay the bailout's cost.
And just go read Avedon.



Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2008 at 04:12:56 AM EST
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And if the government is going to provide capital to financial firms, it should get what people who provide capital are entitled to -- a share in ownership, so that all the gains if the rescue plan works don't go to the people who made the mess in the first place.

The way I put it is this... Why is is okay to recapitalize a company by appealing to foreign "Sovereign Wealth", but in the case of domestic "Sovereign Wealth" it would be "Nationalisation" and therefore evil?

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2008 at 04:46:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
when Will Kristol essentially agrees with Paul Krugman on it:

A Fine Mess - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com

... is the administration's proposal the right way to do this? It would enable the Treasury, without Congressionally approved guidelines as to pricing or procedure, to purchase hundreds of billions of dollars of financial assets, and hire private firms to manage and sell them, presumably at their discretion There are no provisions for -- or even promises of -- disclosure, accountability or transparency. Surely Congress can at least ask some hard questions about such an open-ended commitment.

And I've been shocked by the number of (mostly conservative) experts I've spoken with who aren't at all confident that the Bush administration has even the basics right -- or who think that the plan, though it looks simple on paper, will prove to be a nightmare in practice.

But will political leaders dare oppose it?



Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Mon Sep 22nd, 2008 at 06:39:11 AM EST
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Surely the "magic of the markets" is what is needed here?  Let failing banks fail and let them be replaced by more prudent banks and banking practices.  Why should "prudent" institutions be punished and disadvantaged by Billions being given to their competitors?

Vote McCain for war without gain
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2008 at 11:12:36 AM EST
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Do you mean "creative destruction" doesn't apply to financial institutions?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2008 at 04:24:43 PM EST
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