Bailout, Round 2: Misplaced Optimism

by Ken Houghton

Paul Krugman presents the optimistic version*:

The House will probably vote on Friday on the latest version of the $700 billion bailout plan — originally the Paulson plan, then the Paulson-Dodd-Frank plan, and now, I guess, the Paulson-Dodd-Frank-Pork plan (it’s been larded up since the House rejected it on Monday). I hope that it passes, simply because we’re in the middle of a financial panic, and another no vote would make the panic even worse. But that’s just another way of saying that the economy is now hostage to the Treasury Department’s blunders.

For the fact is that the plan on offer is a stinker — and inexcusably so. The financial system has been under severe stress for more than a year, and there should have been carefully thought-out contingency plans ready to roll out in case the markets melted down. Obviously, there weren’t: the Paulson plan was clearly drawn up in haste and confusion. And Treasury officials have yet to offer any clear explanation of how the plan is supposed to work, probably because they themselves have no idea what they’re doing.

Despite this, as I said, I hope the plan passes, because otherwise we’ll probably see even worse panic in the markets. But at best, the plan will buy some time to seek a real solution to the crisis.

It won’t be that good.

More later, but the relevant quote of the week comes from Martin Hutchinson at Breaking Views (h/t Yves Smith):

Herbert Hoover’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation of 1931-32, which made loans to politically connected companies, didn’t do much to alleviate the Great Depression. An equivalent amount of welfare handed out through the “Veterans’ Bonus”, which Hoover opposed, might have boosted consumption and stabilised the economy more quickly.

*Or, if you prefer, the von Clausewitz version, “Any positive action, even if ultimately wrong….”