Yesterday the house rejected Paulson’s $700 billion rescue plan 228-205. Today, Congress breaks for Rosh Hashanah. Between the finger pointing (It’s Nancy’s fault!!!!), and the mavericking, it’s hard to get a grasp on what the hell is happening. We here at TPM world headquarters profess no expertise in high-end economics so we’ve rounded up the reactions of various economists we trust and respect. The verdict: there has got to be a better way. Or, in Adam Levitin’s words, “So what did Congressional leadership do with this bailout bill? Put lipstick on a pig. I wonder how many Congressmen who voted for the bill know just how impotent the executive compensation, oversight, and homeowner protection provisions are. There’s a reasonable bailout bill that could be passed. But this wasn’t it.”
Robert Reich, former Secretary Of Labor and UC Berkeley professor
Don’t expect easier sailing in the Senate. Fewer than a third of the Senate is up for reelection on November 4, but they’re all hearing from angry constituents.
Prediction: A scaled-down bill will be enacted by the end of the week. It will provide the Treasury with a first installment of $150 billion. Treasury can use it to back Wall Street’s bad debts with lend no-interest loans of up to two years, until the housing market rebounds. Or to invest in Wall Street houses directly, in exchange for stocks and stock warrants. There will be strict oversight. Congressional leaders will promise further installments, but with conditions calling for limits on salaries and relief to distressed homeowners.
David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize winning economic journalist
Maybe we will also get answers to some hard questions. Like:
–Why was the CEO of Goldman Sachs in the room when government officials decided to bailout the insurer AIG, especially since Goldman has about $20 billion, half of its shareholder equity, at risk on AIG? Keep in mind that Treasury Secretary Paulson is the immediate former CEO of Goldman.
–Why was Lehman Brothers, a Goldman competitor, the only Wall Street firm in trouble so far left to collapse on its own? The Wall Street Journal reports today that it was the collapse of Lehman (which because of its structure may not have been an attractive firm for purchase) that “triggered cash crunch around the globe.”
–Has Treasury obtained from every bank the amount of its illiquid assets, which would tell us if the problems are concentrated at a few banks or are pervasive?
–Would a temporary provision in the bankruptcy code, allowing people with toxic mortgages to get their loans rewritten or pursued to foreclosure, be a cheaper and better alternative?
Disclosure, transparency, options–those should be the issues in the next few days.
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research
This isn’t about begging for a sliver of equity as a concession for a $700 billion bailout, this is about constructing a bank rescue the way that business people would do it. We have an interest in a well-operating financial system. There is zero public interest in giving away taxpayer dollars to the Wall Street banks and their executives.
Jeffrey Miron, Visiting Professor in the Department of Economics at Harvard University
This bailout was a terrible idea. Here’s why.
The current mess would never have occurred in the absence of ill-conceived federal policies. The federal government chartered Fannie Mae in 1938 and Freddie Mac in 1970; these two mortgage lending institutions are at the center of the crisis…The fact that government bears such a huge responsibility for the current mess means any response should eliminate the conditions that created this situation in the first place, not attempt to fix bad government with more government.
The obvious alternative to a bailout is letting troubled financial institutions declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy means that shareholders typically get wiped out and the creditors own the company.
Further, the current credit freeze is likely due to Wall Street’s hope of a bailout; bankers will not sell their lousy assets for 20 cents on the dollar if the government might pay 30, 50, or 80 cents.
Nouriel Roubini, professor of Economics at NYU
It is obvious that the current financial crisis is becoming more severe in spite of the Treasury rescue plan (or maybe because of it as this plan it totally flawed). The severe strains in financial markets (money markets, credit markets, stock markets, CDS and derivative markets) are becoming more severe rather than less severe in spite of the nuclear option (after the Fannie and Freddie $200 billion bazooka bailout failed to restore confidence) of a $700 billion package: interbank spreads are widening (TED spread, swap spreads, Libo-OIS spread) and are at level never seen before; credit spreads (such as junk bond yield spreads relative to Treasuries are widening to new peaks; short-term Treasury yields are going back to near zero levels as there is flight to safety; CDS spread for financial institutions are rising to extreme levels (Morgan Stanley ones at 1200 last week) as the ban on shorting of financial stock has moved the pressures on financial firms to the CDS market; and stock markets around the world have reacted very negatively to this rescue package (US market are down about 3% this morning at their opening).
Floyd Norris, chief financial correspondent of The New York Times
The banking industry is in trouble with or without this bailout. Its efforts to change accounting rules to hide its problems are sad and appalling. The defeated bill would have authorized the Securities and Exchange Commission to suspend the mark-to-market rule, which forced the banks to admit how badly they had gambled and lost. The S.E.C. has already yielded to political pressure and barred short-selling in financial stocks, so it is possible it would yield to the accounting pressure as well.
“Truth is the first casualty,” is an old line to describe war reporting. It could also apply financial reporting at a time of crisis.
James Galbraith, senior scholar with the Levy Economics Institute and chair of the board of Economists for Peace and Security
In short, as I said at the beginning, the bill is a vast improvement over the original Treasury proposal. Given the choice between approving or defeating the bill as it stands, I would urge supporting the bill. I do so without illusions. There need be no pretense that it will solve our underlying financial and economic problems. It will not. The purpose, in my view, is to get the financial system and the economy through the year, and into the hands of the next administration. That is a limited purpose, but a legitimate purpose. And it may be the most that can be accomplished for the time being.
Read all of it here. / Talking Points Memo
Thanks to Diane Stirling-Stevens / The Rag Blog