Monday, March 23, 2009

The Tim Geithner Disaster and why Americans should telling he bankers this: You screwed up. We own You. Your Fired

I will let a couple of Nobel Price winning economists, first Paul Krugman and then Joseph Stiglitz explain why Tim Geithner plan is a disaster and why nationalization is way to go.


It goes like this: the government secures confidence in the system by guaranteeing many (though not necessarily all) bank debts. At the same time, it takes temporary control of truly insolvent banks, in order to clean up their books.

That’s what Sweden did in the early 1990s. It’s also what we ourselves did after the savings and loan debacle of the Reagan years. And there’s no reason we can’t do the same thing now.

But the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, apparently wants an easier way out. The common element to the Paulson and Geithner plans is the insistence that the bad assets on banks’ books are really worth much, much more than anyone is currently willing to pay for them. In fact, their true value is so high that if they were properly priced, banks wouldn’t be in trouble.

And so the plan is to use taxpayer funds to drive the prices of bad assets up to “fair” levels. Mr. Paulson proposed having the government buy the assets directly. Mr. Geithner instead proposes a complicated scheme in which the government lends money to private investors, who then use the money to buy the stuff. The idea, says Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser, is to use “the expertise of the market” to set the value of toxic assets.

But the Geithner scheme would offer a one-way bet: if asset values go up, the investors profit, but if they go down, the investors can walk away from their debt. So this isn’t really about letting markets work. It’s just an indirect, disguised way to subsidize purchases of bad assets.


the question isn’t just whether we hold them accountable; the question is: what do we get in return for the money that we’re giving them? At the end of his speech, he spent a lot of time talking about the deficit. And yet, if we don’t do things right—and we haven’t been doing them right—the deficit will be much larger. You know, whether you spend money well in the stimulus bill or whether you’re spending money well in the bank recapitalization, it’s important in everything that we do that we get the bang for the buck. And the fact is, the bank recovery bill, the way we’ve been spending the money on the bank recovery, has not been giving bang for the buck. We haven’t gotten anything out.

What we got in terms of preferred shares, relative to what we gave them, a congressional oversight panel calculated, was only sixty-seven cents on the dollar. And the preferred shares that we got have diminished in value since then. So we got cheated, to put it bluntly. What we don’t know is that—whether we will continue to get cheated. And that’s really at the core of much of what we’re talking about. Are we going to continue to get cheated?

Now, why that’s so important is, one way of thinking about this—end of the speech, he starts talking about a need of reforms in Social Security, put it—you know, there’s a deficit in Social Security. Well, a few years ago, when President Bush came to the American people and said there was a hole in Social Security, the size of the hole was $560 billion approximately. That meant that if we spent that amount of money, we would have guaranteed the—put on sound financial basis our Social Security system. We wouldn’t have to talk about all these issues. We would have provided security for retirement for hundreds of millions of Americans over the next seventy-five years. That’s less money than we spent in the bailouts of the banks, for which we have not been able to see any outcome. So it’s that kind of tradeoff that seems to me that we ought to begin to talk about.


AMY GOODMAN: So, you say Obama, too, has confused saving the banks with saving the bankers.


AMY GOODMAN: Should the banks be nationalized?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Many of the banks clearly should be put into, you might say, conservatorship. Americans don’t like to use the word “nationalization.” We do it all the time. We do it every week.


JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, if banks don’t have enough capital so that they can meet the commitments they’ve made to the depositors, at the end of every week the FDIC looks at the balance sheet, and it says, “You don’t have enough capital. You’re not allowed to continue.” And then what they do is they either find some other bank to take it over and fill in the hole, or they take it into government control—it sounds terrible, to take it into government control—and then sell it.

And that’s what other countries have done when they faced this kind of problem—the countries that have done it well. One of the important lessons is this is the kind of thing can be done well, could be done badly. And the countries that have done badly have wound up paying to restructure the bank 20, 30, 40 percent, even 50 percent of GDP. We’re on our way to that kind of debacle. But that shows you how bad things can be, how costly it can be, if you don’t do it well.

The bankers need to be told something. Say after me America. "You screwed up. We own you. Your fired."

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