Sunday, September 21, 2008

The bailout plan

Glenn, on the latest plan to save the American economy from collapse, which he points out was formed “largely without any debate and mostly in secret.” There’s so much worth reading there that you’re better off clicking through and reading the whole thing, but here are some passages that sent my Rage-O-Meter off the charts:
We've retroactively created a win-only system where the wealthiest corporations and their shareholders are free to gamble for as long as they win and then force others who have no upside to pay for their losses. Watching Wall St. erupt with an orgy of celebration on Friday after it became clear the Government (i.e., you) would pay for their disaster was literally nauseating, as the very people who wreaked this havoc are now being rewarded.

More amazingly, they're free to walk away without having to disgorge their gains; at worst, they're just "forced" to walk away without any further stake in the gamble. How can these bailouts not at least be categorically conditioned on the disgorgement of ill-gotten gains from those who are responsible? The mere fact that shareholders might lose their stake going forward doesn't resolve that concern; why should those who so fantastically profited from these schemes they couldn't support walk away with their gains? This is "redistribution of wealth" and "government takeover of industry" on the grandest scale imaginable -- the buzzphrases that have been thrown around for decades to represent all that is evil and bad in the world. That's all this is; it's not an "investment" by the Government in any real sense but just a magical transfer of losses away from those who are responsible for these losses to those who aren't.

[...]

The beneficiaries of this week's extraordinary Government schemes aren't just the coincidental recipients of largesse due to some random stroke of good luck. The people on whose behalf these schemes are being implemented -- the true beneficiaries -- are the very same people who have been running and owning our Government -- both parties -- for decades, which is why they have been able to do what they've been doing without interference. They were able to gamble without limit because they control the Government, and now they're having others bear the brunt of their collapse for the same reason -- because the Government is largely run for their benefit.

If there is any "pitchfork moment" -- an episode that understandably would send people into the streets in mass outrage -- it would be this. Nobody really even seems to know how much of these losses "the Government" -- meaning working people who had no part in the profits from these transactions -- is undertaking virtually overnight but it's at least a trillion dollars, an amount so vast it's hard to comprehend, let alone analyze in terms of consequences. The transactions are way too complex even for the most sophisticated financial analysts to understand, let alone value. Whatever else is true, generations of Americans are almost certainly going to be severely burdened in untold ways by the events of the last week -- ones that have been carried out largely without any debate and mostly in secret.

Third, what's probably most amazing of all is the contrast between how gargantuan all of this is and the complete absence of debate or disagreement over what's taking place. It's not just that, as usual, Democrats and Republicans are embracing the same core premises ("this is regrettable but necessary"). It's that there's almost no real discussion of what happened, who is responsible, and what the consequences are. It's basically as though the elite class is getting together and discussing this all in whispers, coordinating their views, and releasing just enough information to keep the stupid masses content and calm.

[...]

Here is the current draft for the latest plan. It's elegantly simple. The three key provisions: (1) The Treasury Secretary is authorized to buy up to $700 billion of any mortgage-related assets (so he can just transfer that amount to any corporations in exchange for their worthless or severely crippled "assets") [Sec. 6]; (2) The ceiling on the national debt is raised to $11.3 trillion to accommodate this scheme [Sec. 10]; and (3) best of all: "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency" [Sec. 8].

Put another way, this authorizes Hank Paulson to transfer $700 billion of taxpayer money to private industry in his sole discretion, and nobody has the right or ability to review or challenge any decision he makes.
Paul Krugman adds some perspective to this last point.
Even if you have full faith in Henry Paulson, Intrade currently gives John McCain a 48 percent chance of being president. Are you willing to give essentially unlimited discretion over the use of $700 billion — with explicit protection against any review by Congress or the courts — to Phil Gramm?
You might read this and hear echoes of Congress voting to give George Bush authorization to use force at his own discretion, and that’s because Congress seems intent on giving away all of its oversight ability. In short, Congress is legislating itself right out of existence.

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