Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Verdicts on TARP: What I Wish I'd Said

When the authority of TARP recently expired, a predictable flurry of opinions made cases for and against the largest bank bailout Western civilization has ever known. I could weigh in too, but I found someone who expressed my sentiments so well, I'd just like to quote her for a few short paragraphs.

Alice Schroeder was writing in Businessweek about Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett's right-hand man, who rather scornfully told an audience of Michigan college students that we "shouldn't be bitching about a little bailout" of the banks. Munger also said, in a curious application of the second-person pronoun (is he secretly from another civilization? or planet?), that the bailouts were "required to save your civilization." (The phrasing carries the whiff of the moral harangue from the elder who knows best; one imagines gramps pulling his cracked leather belt from his trouser loops and announcing to the youngster about to get a good strappin', "I'm doing this for your own good.")

And this is Schroeder's very intelligent response (my bold):
... the problem is the false dichotomy it presents. The choice wasn't between the bailout or no bailout. It was between the bailout we financed, which didn't resemble capitalism in any known form, and a bailout more intelligently executed.

No one made us bail out shareholders along with the banks' bondholders. We didn't have to preserve institutions that are still too big to fail in any meaningful sense of the term. We could have propped them up temporarily, then recapitalized them as smaller, more manageable entities, with former equity holders assuming the cost of the risk they assumed.

We missed the chance to reduce systemic risk by comprehensively rewriting regulation for the financial-services industry. Instead of withdrawing government guarantees, we increased them. So there are plenty of reasons to complain about the bailouts.
Yup.