The political knives are out for the Paulson/Bernanke rescue plan. Much of this is coming from what I will call the naive left: well intentioned politicians like Sherrod Brown of Ohio who mimic the populist screams he is getting from constituents back home, one of the states devastated by de-industrialization and globalization over many decades.
Fair enough, but, of course, Ohio is also a key state in the upcoming election and it would not surprise anyone to hear that the Obamabots have been drumming up the phone banks to oppose the deal.
It is certainly understandable that Congress would want some influence over the proposed $700 billion plan, although they abdicated any responsibility for the massive de-regulatory moves they implemented over two decades that laid the groundwork for the crisis.
Concern about bailing out executives of failing financial institutions is an equally fair question, yet again, of course, Congress set up the current tax regime to incentivize the massive risk taking by insiders that helped fuel this fire.
But let’s be clear about what is going on here: if the federal government does not step in, fast, to set a floor on collapsing values of mortgage loans, homes will be destroyed.
What is underway is a collapse of a chaotic and poorly planned housing industry and if homes cannot be bought and sold at fair prices then the entire housing sector is locked up, prices fall well below their long term sustainable value, and both homeowners and their banks lose money.
And this could happen with lightning speed. The US could, overnight, begin to look like Argentina!
There is only one institution with nearly infinite resources that can enter such a market and set a floor on prices that allows the counter party banks to recover and yet can hold the purchased assets for a long enough period of time to earn a profit.
That is the state.
The Paulson/Bernanke plan is a long term bet on the recovery of the American real estate market – which is a reasonable bet over several decades given expected population trends.
There may be some on the left who wish for such an Argentina type outcome. They are crackpots but one cannot help after listening to today’s hearings on the proposal that a similar, let the whole thing collapse world view, is seeping into Congressional thinking as well.
One cannot help recall the impact of the passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930 when a narrow minded and protectionist Congress helped tip the world economy over into a massive depression.
This is quite ironic since this massive government rescue of our financial markets is a singular lesson in the need to replace the free market when it comes to the provision of vital social services – if not housing, why not health care, for example?