Monday, March 9, 2009

This remains a very difficult situation, and it's nice to see Mr Krugman recognising the challenges posed by nationalisation.

From Free Exchange:

"Paul Krugman responds
Posted by: | WASHINGTON
Financial markets

PAUL KRUGMAN has been a strong advocate of nationalisation, but he hasn't, in my view, been particularly clear about what he thinks that should entail and why it's so crucial. I've been pressing him on these points, and today he offers a response.

The benefits from nationalization come from (a) giving taxpayers a share of the upside rather than just a share of the downside, which is where we are now (b) ending the gaming of the system, even looting, that is encouraged by the current system of implicit guarantees (Simon Johnson has been very good on that) (c) making it politically and fiscally feasible to put in enough capital to revitalize the system. These advantages are there whatever you decide to do with junior bank debt.

That said, some decision must be reached on bank liabilities. Sweden guaranteed all of them. If forced to say, I would go the Swedish route; but of course we can’t do that unless we’re prepared to put all troubled banks in receivership. And I’m ready to be persuaded that some debts should not be honored — this is a deeply technical question.

This clarifies quite a bit. It offers a rationale for nationalisation that doesn't centre on the questionable priority of increasing bank lending, and it deals seriously with the question of bank liabilities, rather than postulating a fantasy scenario of nationalisation on the cheap that involves punishing bank debtholders. It is a pretty sound argument.

A few questions remain, however. One concerns the government's ability to limit the number of banks in receivership. Since we may be talking trillions of dollars in liabilities, it would be nice to leave standing as many banks as possible. Can the government take control over Citigroup, and possibly Bank of America, without putting itself in a position where nationalisation of JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo is also necessary? Is the government going to guarantee all bank liabilities? As Mr Krugman acknowledges, this is not an easy question.

The other point touches on Mr Krugman's third point in favour of nationalisation, that it makes it, "politically and fiscally feasible to put in enough capital to revitalize the system". That, I think, is an interesting question. If one accepts that banks must be helped and cannot simply be allowed to earn their way out of insolvency, then is the government more likely to achieve the necessary recapitalisation via the current, creeping bail-out or through nationalisation? It's hard to say, but the latter option does have the benefit of putting the government on the hook once and for all. That is, so long as the plan is a slow motion injection of funds, Congress can get fed up and turn off the spigot. But when the banks are officially the taxpayers' banks, well, Treasury has to do what it has to do to keep the financial system functioning, and to get the banks into shape to be privatised.

This remains a very difficult situation, and it's nice to see Mr Krugman recognising the challenges posed by nationalisation."


Don the libertarian Democrat wrote:
March 9, 2009 15:21

"politically and fiscally feasible to put in enough capital to revitalize the system"

Recently, philosophy was discussed on this blog. One type of philosophy, my type, tries to understand the assumptions and presuppositions underlying any human endeavor. This is what I call a human agency explanation. The three people that I refer to are Wittgenstein, Austin, and Merleau-Ponty. If you read "On Certainty" or "A Plea For Excuses", you can get a flavor of this kind of philosophizing.

In assessing this issue, many of us have come to see the underlying assumptions and presuppositions of the current financial system. Here's one look, from Martin Wolf's FT post today, where he's quoting Andrew Haldane:

"No. There was a much simpler explanation according to one of those present. There
was absolutely no incentive for individuals or teams to run severe stress tests and
show these to management. First, because if there were such a severe shock, they
would very likely lose their bonus and possibly their jobs. Second, because in that
event the authorities would have to step-in anyway to save a bank and others suffering
a similar plight.
All of the other assembled bankers began subjecting their shoes to intense scrutiny.
The unspoken words had been spoken. The officials in the room were aghast. Did
banks not understand that the official sector would not underwrite banks mismanaging
their risks?
Yet history now tells us that the unnamed banker was spot-on. His was a brilliat
articulation of the internal and external incentive problem within banks. When the big
one came, his bonus went and the government duly rode to the rescue. The timeconsistency
problem, and its associated negative consequences for risk management,
was real ahead of crisis. Events since will have done nothing to lessen this problem,
as successively larger waves of institutions have been supported by the authorities."

I love this quote because it's my position and a lot of people tell me I'm silly when I advance it. In any case, if you believe that this was a serious problem, then you don't want to do anything to keep it in play going forward. As well, you want to signal to citizens that the system is changing. This system will not stand.

I'm afraid that this current approach is a huge factor in the lack of confidence in my country, since it seems to leave the current system more or less intact, and acknowledge that we're more less subject to these banks. The government is now making noises about how things will change, and I even saw Sheila Bair on 60 Minutes last night saying that we might want to outlaw large banks. The problem is lack of credibility. I believe that bold action would boost confidence, even if there were problems, which, I admit, there could be.

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