There seem to be two prevailing narratives about the bailout plan(s). Both have elements of truth, but are fundamentally wrong.
One narrative is that of the Wise Men and the Destructive Yahoos. According to this narrative, men who Understand What Needs to be Done put together a plan to save the world, but they did a bad job of communicating, and a mob of ignorant people stands in their way.
The other narrative is that of the Evil Plotters and the Righteous Uprising. According to this narrative, the same people who sold us the Iraq war have tried to bully Congress into adopting a plan that is, in essence, a cynical ripoff — a scheme to transfer vast wealth to the rich and cripple the next administration.
As I said, there’s some truth to both narratives. Many of those opposing the bailout are indeed destructive yahoos — read some of the speeches during the House debate. And yes, there were Iraq echoes in the way Paulson tried to ram his original plan through.
But both narratives are mostly wrong.
There’s a reason Paulson et al had such a hard time communicating the case for their plan — they didn’t have a very good case. To this day they’ve never been able to explain clearly why buying up bad mortgage assets at market prices will solve the credit crunch. The Wise Men, as far as I can tell, have never had a clear idea of what they’re doing.
My view, which I think is now shared by many economists, is that Paulson grabbed hold of the wrong end of the stick — he should have been seeking to expand bank capital, taking an ownership share in compensation, rather than trying to push up the value of toxic paper. In the end, that’s what we’ll probably do.
On the other hand, the way that Paulson et al have been blundering around puts the lie, I think, to the idea that this is a cynical ploy. Ideology certainly played a role — it’s probably a lingering distaste for Evil Socialism that made Treasury go for buying toxic waste rather than injecting capital. And if the Bush years have taught us anything, it is that sometimes conspiracy theories are right. But in this case the performance has been more Keystone Kops than Star Chamber.
So now what? Like Jamie Galbraith, I’d rather see Dodd-Frank-Paulson, which is much better than the original plan, pass than not. The true cost to taxpayers will probably be close to zero, and it would buy some time. But I’m not passionate about this. The real financial rescue still lies in the future, probably under the Obama administration.
Krugman: We Need Obama
Here is the latest from Paul Krugman. He is not to happy with the plan,m but he says it's better than nothing, if Obama becomes president!