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Friday, September 19, 2008

Battalions of Trouble & Grim Choices

"When troubles come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." -- William Shakespeare

The “RTC-type” bailout of the financial industry proposed yesterday has expanded to a team effort by the Treasury, Federal Reserve, White House and Congress.

As part of the effort, the Federal Reserve is shooting out money through a fire hose …

Hoping to shore up confidence with a show of financial shock and awe, the Federal Reserve stunned investors before dawn on Thursday by announcing a plan to provide $180 billion to financial markets through lending programs operated by the European Central Bank and the central banks of Canada, Japan, Britain and Switzerland.

This comes ON TOP of what Reuters estimates that … so far … are bailouts that put taxpayers on the hook for more than $900 billion!

Add it all up, and we’re probably looking at $2 TRILLION in bailout money … so far.

Paul Krugman notes that there is precedent for a government takeover of the financial industry … a Swedish precedent …

Thursday night Ben Bernanke and Mr. Paulson met with Congressional leaders to discuss a “comprehensive approach” to the problem.

We don’t know yet what that “comprehensive approach” will look like. There have been hopeful comparisons to the financial rescue the Swedish government carried out in the early 1990s, a rescue that involved a temporary public takeover of a large part of the country’s financial system. It’s not clear, however, whether policy makers in Washington are prepared to exert a comparable degree of control. And if they aren’t, this could turn into the wrong kind of rescue — a bailout of stockholders as well as the market, in effect rescuing the financial industry from the consequences of its own greed.

Furthermore, even a well-designed rescue would cost a lot of money. The Swedish government laid out 4 percent of G.D.P., which in our case would be a cool $600 billion — although the final burden to Swedish taxpayers was much less, because the government was eventually able to sell off the assets it had acquired, in some cases at a handsome profit.

I will point out that the Federal Government lost (roughly) about
$126 billion on the RTC takeover of bank debt. So happy endings aren’t guaranteed.

Now, why is everyone from both sides of the political aisle lining up behind this? I think they believe they don’t really have a choice. They are really afraid the financial system could unravel.

And in that case, ask yourself: Why isn’t gold already at $2,000 per ounce?

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