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The Opposition Grows


Opposition is growing to the Paulson plan. Much of it makes sense:

Luigi Zingales from the U of Chicago Business School writes:

The decisions that will be made this weekend matter not just to the prospects of the U.S. economy in the year to come; they will shape the type of capitalism we will live in for the next fifty years. Do we want to live in a system where profits are private, but losses are socialized? Where taxpayer money is used to prop up failed firms? Or do we want to live in a system where people are held responsible for their decisions, where imprudent behavior is penalized and prudent behavior rewarded?

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 few financiers will undermine the fundamental workings of the

capitalist system. The time has come to save capitalism from the capitalists.

Paul Krugman writes

… the plan does nothing to address the lack of capital unless the Treasury overpays for assets. And if that’s the real plan, Congress has every right to balk.

So what should be done? Well, let’s think about how, until Paulson hit the panic button, the private sector was supposed to work this out: financial firms were supposed to recapitalize, bringing in outside investors to bulk up their capital base. That is, the private sector was supposed to cut off the problem at stage 2.

It now appears that isn’t happening, and public intervention is needed. But in that case, shouldn’t the public intervention also be at stage 2 — that is, shouldn’t it take the form of public injections of capital, in return for a stake in the upside?

Let’s not be railroaded into accepting an enormously expensive plan that doesn’t seem to address the real problem.

Robert Kuttner writes:

Paulson’s storyline is that the credit markets are frozen, and unless Congress passes a “clean bill” — his way — disaster lies ahead. He spent a busy Sunday morning on the talk shows ducking questions on what would happen if Congress didn’t act — and what might still happen if it did.

One senior Congressional Democrat told me, “They have a gun to our heads.” Paulson behaved as if he held all the cards, but in fact the Democrats have a lot of cards, too. The question is whether they have the nerve to challenge major flaws in Paulson’s plan as a condition of enacting it.

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism writes:

The US needs to wean itself of unsustainable overconsumption, and since consumption has come to depend on growth in indebtedness, a reversal, however painful, is necessary. Our excesses have been so great that there is no way out of this that does not lead to a general fall in living standards (note that the officialdom in the UK is willing to say that, but since perpetual prosperity is a God-given right in America, admitting we will be getting poorer is verboten). Thus, a sharp contraction in lending seems inevitable; the trick is to prevent it from crossing the tipping point into a vicious, accelerating downward spiral.

But regardless, there has been broad agreement that private capital will not enter the mortgage/housing market until investors have confidence that a bottom is nigh. The Treasury program, by quite deliberately propping up asset prices, will delay finding a market clearing level and thus attenuate the financial crisis.

James Hamilton at Econobrowser writes:

I do not see that a clear vision of exactly what is expected and required, in the way of modified capital standards and risk management procedures, for any institution that receives federal assistance is a key part of any of the proposals. And it should be.


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