Friday, July 25, 2008

Bailout, and government response - other view

There is an interesting post today at naked capitalism: Stiglitz; "Fannie’s and Freddie’s free lunch about justification of bailouts. US government is busy bailing out over-aggressive risk taking institutions with risk-averse sweat-and-blood money of the taxpayer who is more concerned about ways of paying his dues in a gloomy job market. This is wrong. But situation has grey areas when viewed from government side.

The institutions blame their woes on a US slowdown unashamedly pointing finger at the maxed out US consumer who has loan is past, present and future earnings to the devil himself. Let me remind you that these were the very devils who cheered on the US consumer down the valley of distress as they minted money at his/her expense. They sacrificed the consumer for the shareholder. As a reward, their shareholders lavished the boards and executives with benefits and bonuses. Today the US government is doing the exact reverse thing. It is bailing out the carefree risk-lords with shareholders’ money. At both side it is the layman at the receiving end. Yet it is not so simple.

From a government’s perch, the reality is confusing. Institutions are taxpayers themselves and hence stakeholders. They are also income sources and service providers for citizens. A large number of institutions are foreign exchange earners for their country. Governments view certain sectors as drivers of competitive advantage. US views finance and money management as its competitive advantage. A government might opine that a running system is easier to coax into order than let the system falter. Yet whatever the reason, they must be elaborated and opened to public scrutiny.

There are of course many lessons from the current crisis. Arnold Kling has thrown in his perspective here. However, that is when the sun breaks out. Right now, from within the eye of the storm, things are more difficult and often survival or preservation always gains top priority. We tend to salvage whatever we can even disregarding our lives. The roar of the catastrophy drowns the calls of prudence. I believe something similar is happening with governments globally. In their rush to do something – they may not necessarily do the right thing.

A comprehensive regulatory overhaul is definitely a take-away from this crisis. I believe, it is also important to take this regulation global. Further, taxation and social security needs to be overhauled. At the farthest “public goods” need to be defined and reworked. The most essential takeaway will be a disaster control program that tests scenarios and develops action plans to emergency alleviation. The system of academics, consultants and media (what we have currently) does not create enough accountability to identify scenarios and develop action plan. No doubt the system currently does that. But it is not treated seriously enough to become a disaster management system. Else the forecasts of lot of bloggers (including high profile ones like Dr. Roubini) would have triggered an enquiry.