November 28, 2008

THE BANKING SYSTEM IS REALLY BROKEN

William Greider, The Nation - Henry Paulson's $700 billion plan to save the world is dead or dying, but the bailout was not killed by his arrogance or his grossly misleading claims about what the public's money would buy. The plan collapsed because it didn't work. The Treasury secretary has launched a PR offensive to revive his falling influence. Too late. The Democrats should be equally embarrassed. In September their leaders in Congress rushed to embrace the Paulson solution, no hard questions asked. They now claim they were duped. . .

Here is the ugly, unofficial truth that neither Wall Street nor the government will acknowledge: the pinnacle of the US financial system is broke -- with perhaps $2 trillion in rotten financial assets on the books. Nobody knows, exactly. The bankers won't say, and regulators won't ask, or at least don't dare tell the public. Official silence naturally feeds the conviction that banking's problems are far worse than we've been told. The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College puts it plainly: "It is probable that many and perhaps most financial institutions are insolvent today -- with a black hole of negative net worth that would swallow Paulson's entire $700 billion in one gulp.". . .

Paulson was trapped by these circumstances (and his own mendacity). Each time he tried to change the script, market insiders became even more alarmed. Congress is trapped too. So is President-elect Obama. From the outset of the crisis, the essential fallacy shared by governing influentials has been a wishful assumption that quick interventions with tons of public money would somehow restore the system to "normal" without disturbing free-market principles. . .

Obama can begin by declaring a "bank holiday" like FDR's in 1933 -- an opportunity to put the hard facts on the table and assume temporary control of the entire financial system. Nationalizing the banks sounds more radical than it is, since banking law already empowers regulators to impose extraordinary controls and close supervision over troubled institutions. Facing facts will be painful, but it's better than continuing a costly charade. . .

A genuine solution means closing down the hopeless institutions and creating a more democratic system based on small to medium-sized banks, financial intermediaries that are less imperious and closer to the real economy of producers and consumers. . .

The financial system, meanwhile, can be managed much as it was during the Depression, with regulators weeding out doomed banks and closing them, putting troubled banks under conservatorship and supervising healthy ones closely to prevent excesses. . .

Under these conditions, the government can grant forbearance and prescribe business plans for a slower recovery of bank balance sheets. Instead of buying ruined assets from banks, the government can allow them to sit, possibly for several years, until the economy revives and mortgages or other debt paper regains value. This would amount to an "imposed purgatory" for major banks, keeping them from growing too fast with unsound ventures. Taxpayers will not get off the hook either; government will need to spend hundreds of billions to bail out bankrupt pension funds and pay off insured deposits at failed banks. . .

1 Comments:

At December 1, 2008 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lets us not dwell on the incredibly obvious when the merely obvious will do.

cm

 

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