Wall Street Roundup


Yves Smith:

[H]ere is the truly offensive section of an overreaching piece of legislation: "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

This puts the Treasury's actions beyond the rule of law. This is a financial coup d'etat, with the only limitation the $700 billion balance sheet figure. The measure already gives the Treasury the authority not simply to buy dud mortgage paper but other assets as it deems fit. There is no accountability beyond a report (contents undefined) to Congress three months into the program and semiannually thereafter. The Treasury could via incompetence or venality grossly overpay for assets and advisory services, and fail to exclude consultants with conflicts of interest, and there would be no recourse. Given the truly appalling track record of this Administration in its outsourcing, this is not an idle worry.

But far worse is the precedent it sets. This Administration has worked hard to escape any constraints on its actions, not to pursue noble causes, but to curtail civil liberties: Guantanamo, rendition, torture, warrantless wiretaps. It has used the threat of unseen terrorists and a seemingly perpetual war on radical Muslim[s] to justify gutting the Constitution. The Supreme Court, which has been supine on many fronts, has finally started to push back, but would it challenge a bill that sweeps aside judicial review?

Sebastian Mallaby:

[In the S&L crisis], the government did not need a strategy to decide which bad loans to take over; it dealt with anything that fell into its lap as a result of a thrift bankruptcy. But under the current proposal, the government would go out and shop for bad loans. These come in all shapes and sizes, so the government would have to judge what type of loans it wants. They are illiquid, so it's hard to know how to value them. Bad loans are weighing down the financial system precisely because private-sector experts can't determine their worth. The government would have no better handle on the problem.

In practice this means the government would make subjective choices about which bad loans to buy, and it would pay more than fair value. Billions in taxpayer money would be transferred to the shareholders and creditors of banks, and the banks from which the government bought most loans would be subsidized more than their rivals. If the government bought the most from the sickest institutions, it would be slowing the healthy process in which strong players buy up the weak, delaying an eventual recovery. The haggling over which banks got to unload the most would drag on for months. So the hope that this "systematic" plan can be a near-term substitute for ad hoc AIG-style bailouts is illusory.

Christopher Caldwell:

Republicans may suffer damage not because their remedies are worse but because a lot of their ideology about how markets work has been belied by events. Republicans are the party of rewarding people for risk-taking. If the government covers part of the losses, then the risks were illusory in the first place. (So, of course, were some of the rewards. A good percentage of the proceeds from the controversial Bush tax cuts was surely poured into this black hole of speculation and unknowability.)

President George W.?Bush, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and treasury secretary Hank Paulson all declare their preference for free-market solutions and a desire to minimise moral hazard. But they sound like François Mitterrand in mid-1983 when he abandoned his socialist programme commun in the face of capital flight and a collapsing franc, all the while proclaiming his devotion to socialism.

Ken Layne:

Turns out we didn't need "stealth socialist" Barack Obama to pervert capitalist America into a crumbling nationalized economy run in private by a dome-skulled kleptocracy as our nation's battered military wastes away in the forgotten bummer of a civil war in Afghanistan.

Jim Henley:

Who imagined that the great opportunity for joint progressive and libertarian advocacy and activism would end up being economic? But that's where we are. This loathsome bailout plan is a slap in the face to anyone who believes in either free-market principles or social justice.

Matthew Yglesias:

[B]ad policies get enacted all the time. But we're at a point now where congress is, allegedly, in the hands of progressive leadership. Simply put, if congressional Democrats manage to acquiesce in a plan that spends $700 billion on a bailout while doing nothing for average working people and giving the taxpayer virtually no upside in a way that guarantees that even electoral victory would give an Obama administration no resources with which to implement a progressive domestic agenda in 2009 then everyone's going to have to give serious consideration to becoming a pretty hard-core libertarian.

James Joyner:

Bernanke says, "There are no atheists in foxholes and no ideologues in financial crises." But if there's ever a time to hold strong to fundamental principles, it would seem that this would be it. We're setting precedents that will govern the behavior of the international business community for decades to come. Do we really want to signal that risks are public and rewards are private?

For that matter, do we really want such fundamental decisions being made by obscure, unaccountable men like Bernanke, Paulson, and SEC chair Chris Cox? Shouldn't Congress and the president be more than bit players?

At a practical level, Amity Shlaes is right when [s]he notes that, "The stock market crash of October 1929 and the Great Depression were not the same thing." And a New Deal II could just as easily lead to Great Depression II as letting creative destruction do its thing.