MY TURN: TOM GOERGEN: Economically, Let's Look Before We Leap
The economic crisis is grave, warranting all the coverage and concern it has generated. We are facing, and have already made, choices that will dramatically effect our everyday lives. Especially, and sadly, the lives of future generations.
The consensus of the brightest minds and regular Americans appears to be that we have to do something, even if it makes matters worse. It seems a little like being told you have a brain tumor, then seeking out your 5-year-old to operate with a rusty pocketknife.
Let's consider a few alternatives before we jump off the financial cliff.
Perhaps instead of a multitrillion-dollar taxpayer bailout for the biggest banks, those most complicit in the chicanery, we could restrict the largesse to community banks. They are more likely to lend to Main Street America.
Too big to fail is too big, period. Let the big money-center banks declare bankruptcy if they are in real trouble. After the shareholders, bondholders and management take their well-deserved losses, the FDIC could step in and operate them. Sheila Bair seems to have done a good job resolving IndyMac Bank.
The big banks could finally begin lending to productive America, instead of speculative ventures. Old management could be sacked. When our economy has turned around and their balance sheets are back in the black, reprivatize them, using the proceeds to pay down the national debt.
Did future generations ask financiers to bet their prosperity on risky, mortgage-backed securities? Collateralized debt obligations? Credit default swaps?
Warren Buffet called derivatives "financial weapons of mass destruction." Side bets on the point spread of the Super Bowl would have given better odds. Will our grandchildren benefit from a massive bailout? Do they deserve to pay for it?
Financiers were living high while losing fortunes. If someone you know, but don't particularly like, loses his house in a rigged poker game, would you suggest risking yours on the slim chance of bailing him out? We should let the hedge funds and other holders of derivatives bear their losses, too.
A severe recession will happen no matter what we do. We can survive it better if we accept whatever pain is absolutely necessary, while helping the real economy function as best it can in a down cycle.
Help mortgagors stay in their homes, wherever their payments can reasonably be adjusted to their ability to pay. Thereby keeping the housing market from hitting bottom and helping out responsible borrowers, too.
We cannot maintain a decent standard of living with 11 million jobless Americans. If your customers are out of work, your own business will suffer.
Since the private sector is temporarily unable to create jobs, laying off record numbers, the government must step in, temporarily, to provide work as a last resort. As the economy recovers, job programs can end. We had the WPA and CCC during our last depression. It didn't spell the end of the nation or free enterprise.
Work programs should employ Americans directly, without a share for Halliburton or their ilk.
Americans employed stringing electrical wire to connect wind farms in the Midwest and solar farms in the West to our cities will have created something which will generate a return on the money spent for their wages.
Compare that to filling the multitrillion-dollar financial hole created by derivatives. Hiring three million people for one year at a salary of $20,000 each costs $60 billion. Workers spend and pay taxes, creating demand that helps to revive the real economy.
We are already $10.6 trillion in debt -- $35,000 per American. The cupboard is bare. Every dollar used to bail out bankers or stimulate the economy will have to be borrowed. Borrowing will have a cost in either rising taxes, slower economic growth, inflation, default, or several of the above. We are sinking fast, like a Third World country.
Our "brilliant" Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, is treating the economy like his private study lab, testing out his pet, wacky theories. The Fed's balance sheet is now bursting with questionable assets. The Federal Reserve will become the ultimate "bad bank," stoking the fires of inflation.
As of November, between the Fed and the Treasury, our government pledged $7.8 trillion to end the financial crisis. Little result, more to come, $800 billion in stimulus. Are we digging in a bottomless pit?
Economics is an art, not a science. Whatever choices are made, let's hope they work out for America.
Tom Goergen lives in Southern Pines. Contact him at email@example.com.
More like this story