In mid-September, when it became clear to Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and George Bush that extraordinary measures were needed to address the mess that had built up in the financial markets during the past decade or so, their first instincts should have been to say:
- “We need to have a complete plan to deal with this.”
- “We need to make a case to Congress and the American people that our plan will work.”
They did neither of these things; nor did they even seem to consider whether what they wanted was even constitutional.
Instead, they in essence demanded that Congress and the American people give them a blank check, saying, “Do this, or else.” Last Sunday, I called it blackmail. I stand by that.
Of course, a large plurality of Congressmen and Senators, along with a majority of the American people, were repulsed. The wonder is that everyone wasn’t.
As economists, we want to express to Congress our great concern for the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson to deal with the financial crisis. We are well aware of the difficulty of the current financial situation and we agree with the need for bold action to ensure that the financial system continues to function. We see three fatal pitfalls in the currently proposed plan:
1) Its fairness. The plan is a subsidy to investors at taxpayersÕ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.
2) Its ambiguity. Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards.
3) Its long-term effects. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America’s dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.
For these reasons we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.
The monstrosity that became law yesterday (PDF-formatted first 250 pages here) does not begin to adequately address the group’s three key concerns.