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Monday, April 26, 2010

If Uncle Sam Doesn't Pay for the Bailout, Is It Still a Bailout?

Derivatives reform is one thing (a good thing!). More bailouts for big banks is another (a bad thing). Dr. Mankiw directs my attention (and possibly yours) to Philip Swagel's criticism of the Dodd financial reform bill in the American Enterprise Institute's journal (should I really be reading this tuff?):

The debate over financial regulation is now focused squarely on the ability of the government to take over a failing financial institution such as a bank holding company or hedge fund—so-called non-bank resolution authority. This is the linchpin of reform because allowing the government to intervene in a crisis will affect investors’ risk-taking behavior from the start—for better or worse. A resolution regime that provides certainty against bailouts will reduce the riskiness of markets and thus help avoid a future crisis, while a reform that enshrines the possibility of bailouts will foster risky behavior and unwittingly make future bailouts more likely....

...A particularly misleading claim from the administration is that the bill is not a bailout because any losses would be recouped through taxes on banks after the fact. The intervention itself is the essence of the bailout, not whether there are losses to the government. Imagine if the Troubled Asset Relief Program was to end up with a profit—not just recouping the money put into firms over the past two years but actually making a return for taxpayers. No one would suggest that the TARP is then somehow not a bailout. Recouping funds after the fact might be a good way to protect taxpayers, but it is preposterous to claim that this makes the Dodd bill anything other than a bailout. The ability of the government to put money into a failing firm and make payments to counterparties at its discretion is what makes the Dodd proposal a permanent bailout authority, not the issue of who pays after the fact [Philip Swagel, "Yes, It's a Bailout," The American, 2010.04.24].

Swagel recommends a resolution regime that focuses more on bankruptcy. And there's enough of a free-marketeer in me to wonder if he might be right. If the big problem behind our economic collapse was unchecked risky behavior, doesn't it make sense to give the risk-takers (who will always be with us, just like the poor) fewer ways to dodge the consequences of their risky behavior?

p.s.: But the financial reform bill will reduce the deficit!

1 comment:

  1. Dodd's bill will give investment banks the ability to dump their toxic paper on the taxpayers. Banks will keep their profits private but will be happy to make their losses public.


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