Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson today called on the banks that the federal government has just given $250 billion dollars to make that money available to others in the economy.
“We must restore confidence in our financial system,” Paulson said. “The needs of our economy require that our financial institutions not take this new capital to hoard it, but to deploy it.”
The “needs of our economy” might require that the banks not hoard the money that the government has given them, but the Bush administration isn’t requiring much of anything.
I agree with Paulson that the economy will not begin to recover until there is liquidity in the credit markets. That, indeed, was the rationale behind the government’s massive and unprecedented bailout of the financial industry.
Why, then, is Paulson asking the banks to do the only thing that justified giving them those billions of taxpayer dollars?
If, as is apparent to just about everyone, the economy will not recover until liquidity is restored to financial markets, why doesn’t the federal government require that the banks not hoard the billions that the government is giving them?
The answer is that, despite the acuteness of the financial crisis, and despite the government’s belated decision to take large scale action, the basic approach of the Bush administration has not changed.
In fact, for the past year, the Bush administration has taken a consistent, and faulty, two pronged approach to dealing with the expanding economic crisis, and this approach has not changed with the latest bailout.
This two pronged approach is
- (1) make capital available at extremely low rates to banks and financial institutions with the goal of restoring liquidity, and then
- (2) beg and plead with these same banks and financial institutions to move this capital into the economy.
As the housing and mortgage crisis worsened, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke announced a series of cuts in interest rates. Each time, Bernanke repeated his call for lenders to voluntarily reduce the principal on delinquent loans to adjust them for the drop in home prices, rejecting the far more more forceful action proposed by Democrats favoring legislation that would require the refinancing of hundreds of thousands of mortgages.
Of course, the banks did not voluntarily do what Bernanke requested.
Now Treasury Secretary Paulson is following the same dead end path in asking the banks to voluntarily take the actions that are needed for the restoration of the market.
The Bush adminstration’s beg and plead approach did not work in the past, and it will not work now.
Of course, no one, except the apocalypticals of the far Left and Right, and Libertarians driven crazy by ideology or alcoholism, want to see the global economy collapse. Sane people don’t want to see bread lines or live with their guns at the ready in a bunker in the woods.
But we can now longer expect that capitalists, driven by personal gain, will voluntarily act to save the system that sustains them.
What is needed is a comprehensive and mandatory overhaul of the entire banking and financial system and the credit markets on the order of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934.
And for that, we’ll have to wait at least until a new Congress, a new administration, and a new political and economic philosophy take over in January 2009.
I hope we last that long.