Friday, January 23, 2009

Bad Banks, Worse Choices

The attempt to save the banking system is looking more and more like a suicide mission for the US government as estimates of bad loans rise above $3 trillion.

* Losses may reach $3.6 trillion, according to New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini, who predicted last year’s economic crisis. “If that’s true," he says. "it means the US banking system is effectively insolvent because it starts with a capital of $1.4 trillion. This is a systemic banking crisis.”

*At confirmation hearings for the new Treasury Secretary, Sen. Chuck Schumer reveals that Wall Street sources tell him that, if the government wants to clean out all the toxic assets from the financial system, it will cost $3-4 trillion dollars..

*Financier George Soros criticizes the "bad bank" solution of taking troubled assets off balance sheets.

Such measures, he says, would provide "artificial life support for the banks at considerable expense to the taxpayer, but would not put the banks in a position to resume lending at competitive rates."

He argues instead for "partially nationalizing" banks, which "would inflict great pain on a broad segment of the population--not only on bank shareholders but also on the beneficiaries of pension funds" but "would clear the air and restart the economy."

For non-economists, this has the makings of a headache-inducing debate in the coming weeks. When Congressional politicians (pace John Boehner) get into it, there will be a lot of garbage talk about socialism, free markets, tax cuts, etc--all of it beside the point as the financial system teeters at the edge of an abyss.

If President Obama's economic team decides to try for long-range answers rather than Paulsonish quick fixes, it's going to take all his eloquence to get the public and legislative support needed to start on them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where can the nation come up with the money to fix this "systemic bank crisis?"

Perhaps by going to a national single payer health plan?