If Ever There Were a Tipping Point in the Nationalisation Discussions…
Willem Buiter, whose early posts at Maverecon were the epitome of restraint, calls for nationalisation:
By throwing cheap money with little conditionality at the banks, the Fed and the US Treasury may get bank lending going again. By subsidizing new capital injections, they reward bad porfolio choices by the existing shareholders. By letting the executive leadership and the board stay on, they further increase moral hazard, by rewarding failed managers and boards that have failed in their fiduciary duties. All this strengthens the incentives for future excessive risk taking.
There is a better alternative. The alternative is to inject additional capital into the banks by taking all the banks into full public ownership. With the state as sole owner, the existing top executives and the existing board members can be fired without any golden handshakes. That takes care of one important form of moral hazard. Although publicly owned, the banks would be mandated to operate on ordinary commercial principles. Managers could be incentivised by linking remuneration to multi-year profitability. The incentives for excessive liquidity accumulation and for excessively cautious lending policies that exist for partially nationalised banks and for banks fearing nationalisation would, however, be eliminated.
He also addresses the sticking point on the formation of the “bad bank”: if the government already owns the assets, the sale price becomes an accounting question. Not that that is necessarily good, but at least it limits some of the profiteering.
Read the whole thing.