More on the Bailout

First, a reminder of how we got where we are. House Republicans and Democrats debate reform of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac:

Now, on to the merits of today’s vote. My instinct has been to support the bailout proposal, but a number of commentators have made cogent arguments to the contrary. At The Corner, Andy McCarthy questions the bill’s specific provisions:

This was a terrible bill. To take just a few particulars, why is there no reform of the government interventions that got us to this point in the first place? Why aren’t Fannie and Freddie being wound down — even after we’ve now had to make explicit the implicit, disastrous government guarantee? Why is Pelosi saying (as I noted in an earlier post) that the authority in the bill will allow the Treasury Department (perhaps soon an Obama Treasury Department) to take bad debt off the hands of mismanaged state and local governments?

Why don’t we have a firmer formula for how Paulson (or, again, an Obama Treasury Secretary) will determine the value of the toxic debt before the government starts throwing money at it. Now, I’ve heard all the arguments about how, for the bailout to “work,” a premium above current value would have to be paid. Even if I accept that as true for argument’s sake, however, are you telling me I am wrong to worry that this bill gives the Treasury Secretary unduly wide latitude to feed taxpayer money into businesses that should fail because they’ve been irresponsibly leveraged and utterly mismanaged?

Why does the government have to buy the securities? If liquidity is the problem, why can’t it make money available for loan, taking back collateral, placing the risk on the bad actors rather than the taxpayers, and letting market set a reasonable price for the bad debt by auction and other conventional methods. Most people will pay their mortgages so these “troubled assets” still have significant value. And there are buyers out there. The troubled entities are not selling at the price the market will bear because they (understandably) think they will get a wildly inflated price from the government — once again, perverting the market: penalizing responsible actors, rewarding the bad actors who brought us to this point, and keeping those bad actors in business.

Joseph Calhoun offers a broader rationale for opposing the bailout: “In Times of Crisis, Trust Capitalism:”

Last week Goldman Sachs raised $10 billion in new capital in one day. They sold $5 billion in preferred stock and warrants to Berkshire Hathaway and also completed a secondary offering of common stock that raised another $5 billion. Friday, JP Morgan raised $10 billion in a secondary offering to help pay for the Washington Mutual takeunder. Both of these offerings were oversubscribed, meaning that the companies could have raised more capital if they wanted. There is not a shortage of capital for well run financial companies.

There is, however, a shortage of capital for companies that have acted irresponsibly with investor capital in the recent past. For some reason, our political leaders believe this is a failure of the market, but isn’t this what should be expected from rational investors? …

The biggest bank failure in the history of the United States happened last Thursday night and by Friday morning, it was business as usual. The only difference was the name on the door and the losses suffered by those unfortunate enough to invest in Washington Mutual bonds or stock. The taxpayers didn’t lose anything and depositors didn’t lose anything, only investors. That is how capitalism works in case everyone has forgotten.

The “crisis” we face today is not a creation of the market. Government intervention over many years (but especially the last year) is what brought us to the point where we’ve placed our hopes for economic recovery on the good intentions of a Congress facing re-election in a few weeks. There has been much commentary recently about the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the creation and expansion of the sub-prime mortgage market which many believe to be the cause of this mess. That criticism is certainly warranted, but little attention has been paid to the real culprit – the Federal Reserve. Furthermore, what attention there has been is concentrated on the role of Alan Greenspan rather than Ben Bernanke. While Alan Greenspan deserves his share of the blame, Bernanke’s contribution to this mess should not be minimized or excused.

Calhoun’s critique of the Fed’s role in the present crisis is one that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

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