A number of economists, including Paul Krugman, have panned Timothy Geithner’s plan to recapitalize banks by buying toxic assets in a complex and highly leveraged way that puts the taxpayer’s dollars at risk.
Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel economist, has piled on. In fact, his is probably the most damning opinion I’ve seen. Stiglitz says that first of all, Geithner has analyzed the problem incorrectly. Geithner keeps telling us it is a “liquidity” problem. Stiglitz says “poppycock”:
The main problem is not a lack of liquidity. If it were, then a far simpler program would work: just provide the funds without loan guarantees. The real issue is that the banks made bad loans in a bubble and were highly leveraged. They have lost their capital, and this capital has to be replaced.
What he means is their “capital”, or assets are in worthless loans. Yes that’s right – worthless. So, as he points out, paying “fair market value” for these assets won’t work, will it? They’re worthless.
So what does Geithner propose?
Only by overpaying for the assets will the banks be adequately recapitalized. But overpaying for the assets simply shifts the losses to the government. In other words, the Geithner plan works only if and when the taxpayer loses big time.
Stiglitz explains the proposed process very well, demonstrating it fairly simple and straightforward examples how the taxpayer takes the majority of the risk, and, given the nature off the “assets”, will absorb the majority of the losses.
But Americans are likely to lose even more than these calculations suggest, because of an effect called adverse selection. The banks get to choose the loans and securities that they want to sell. They will want to sell the worst assets, and especially the assets that they think the market overestimates (and thus is willing to pay too much for).
But the market is likely to recognize this, which will drive down the price that it is willing to pay. Only the government’s picking up enough of the losses overcomes this “adverse selection” effect. With the government absorbing the losses, the market doesn’t care if the banks are “cheating” them by selling their lousiest assets, because the government bears the cost.
That is a process driven problem. The Geithner process guarantees the outcome because that is the most likely outcome, banks not being stupid and with the government bearing the cost.
Bottom line – taxpayers are going to get hosed and hosed good.
Stiglitz provides an interesting alternative which gives you an idea of how poorly he regards Geithner’s plan:
Some Americans are afraid that the government might temporarily “nationalize” the banks, but that option would be preferable to the Geithner plan. After all, the F.D.I.C. has taken control of failing banks before, and done it well.
Given only those two option, I’d say Stiglitz has a point.
Of course, the argument we’ve made since day one is we ought to let them go bust, get it over with and begin the recovery. That’s the same argument we made concerning GM and Chrysler.
Instead we’ve gotten these insane plans driven by the administration which has thrown literally trillions of good dollars after bad – and to no apparent avail.
This madness has got to stop.
I can’t say with any certainty what this forebodes, but this is a staggering amount of debt to pile onto any country, especially within just a few months (my emphasis):
The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent, lent or guaranteed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year, to stem the longest recession since the 1930s.
New pledges from the Fed, the Treasury Department and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. include $1 trillion for the Public-Private Investment Program, designed to help investors buy distressed loans and other assets from U.S. banks. The money works out to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. and 14 times the $899.8 billion of currency in circulation. The nation’s gross domestic product was $14.2 trillion in 2008.
The really scary thing is, the government is not even close to being done spending money. Yet we’ve already committed about 90% of GDP. Where is all that money going to come from?
As we’ve said before, there’s only a few options: (1) taxes; (2) borrowing; and (3) printing press.
Taxes will only raise so much, even when the government starts raising rates on lower income quintiles, and certainly not enough to keep up with the ballooning debt-service payments.
Borrowing just isn’t going to happen because there isn’t anybody else who either wants to or is capable of lending us more money. To wit, here’s some of Peter Murphy’s analysis on our borrowing problems:
The biggest buyers of US Government (and Agency) debt, for the past several years, have been China, Japan, and the Oil States.
However, the supply of loanable funds among these entities from which the US can borrow is drying up.
China’s current-account surplus, the source of the funds for its Treasury purchases, has dropped precipitously as the global economy has contracted over the past several months.
Japan, another major buyer of Treasuries over recent years, is now posting trade deficits for the first time since the early 1970’s. This current account deficit, combined with a significant fiscal shortfall and planned issuance of $33 Trillion Yen ($340 Billion USD) in government debt this year, means that Japan will be, in effect, competing with the US for funds, rather than lending to us.
And, the oil-exporters are in no shape to be buying anything right now, as oil prices have collapsed since last summers $147/barrel peak. Russia is busy selling foreign exchange to prop up its currency.
Brad Sester of the Council of Foreign Relations reports that foreign demand for long-term treasuries has faded, and notes, ominously, that “global reserves aren’t growing”.
Accordingly, borrowing does not look like an option. Which leaves really just one choice.
Printing money in a down economy, which will have to be done, increases inflation and saps purchasing power (potentially leading to hyper-inflation). We may be able to pay off our debts this way, but we’ll wipe out the wealth of the nation doing so. Think post-Franco-Prussian War where France drove its economy into the ground in order to pay off about 22% of its yearly GDP in war reparations to Germany … over three years. That strife led to the Paris Commune uprisings among other things. Or worse, consider post-WWI Germany, with inflation rising so fast that workers had to be paid twice a day and cart around wheelbarrows full of money just to buy a loaf of bread.
Is that what we’re headed for? I sure hope not, but the signs aren’t very encouraging if history is any guide. It is true that a much more dynamic and nimble economy exists today as compared to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But the world tendency right now seems to be to shackle that economy, making it much less dynamic and nimble. The end result must be less wealth produced, and less money to pay these debts. In short, our government is currently cashing checks that our economy can’t pay.
Desmond Lachman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was previously chief emerging market strategist at Salomon Smith Barney and deputy director of the International Monetary Fund’s Policy and Review Department. So, he’s spent a lot of time watching emerging markets from the IMF’s point of view, and pointing out where the leaders of developing countries ran the economy off the rails.
Just like he’s watching our political leaders doing the same thing to us. In essence, he writes that the US is repeating the same mistakes that led to Japan’s “Lost Decade”, and Russia’s default on it’s debt.
A singular characteristic of an emerging market heading for deep trouble is a seemingly suicidal tendency to become overly indebted to foreign creditors. That tendency underlay the spectacular collapse of the Thai, Indonesian and Korean currencies in 1997. It also led Russia to default on its debt in 1998 and plunged Argentina into its economic depression in 2001. Yet we too seem to have little difficulty becoming increasingly indebted to the tune of a few hundred billion dollars a year. To make matters worse, we do so to countries like China, Russia and an assortment of Middle Eastern oil producers — none of which is particularly well disposed to us.
Like Argentina in its worst moments, we never seem to question whether it is reasonable to expect foreigners to keep financing our extravagance, and we forget the bad things that happen to the Argentinas or Hungarys of the world when foreigners stop financing their excesses. So instead of laying out a realistic plan for increasing our national savings, we choose not to face up to the Social Security and Medicare crises that lie ahead, embarking instead on massive spending programs that — whatever their long-run merits might be — we simply cannot afford.
After experiencing a few emerging-market crises, I get the sense of watching the same movie over and over. All too often, a tragic part of that movie is the failure of the countries’ policymakers to hear the loud cries of canaries in the coal mine. Before running up further outsized budget deficits, should we not heed the markets that now see a 10 percent probability that the U.S. government will default on its sovereign debt in the next five years? And should we not be paying close attention to the Chinese central bank governor’s musings that he does not feel comfortable with the $1 trillion of U.S. government debt that the Chinese central bank already owns, let alone adding to those holdings?
Speaking of canaries in the coal mines, I note with interest that there have been two failed bond auctions in Germany this year, followed by a failed bond auction of 5-year gilts this week in London.
I just keep watching the kangaroo.
I saw the following two quotes in a Patrick J. Buchanan piece. Now I’m not much of a Buchanan person by any stretch, but the quotes resonated with me and I found myself agreeing with much of what Buchanan said.
“The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.” –Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway wasn’t an economist, but there are plenty out there consider John Maynard Keynes a fairly good one, even now. And he said much the same thing about the economic side of the Hemingway quote:
“The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.”
Right now, in lieu of dollars, our Federal Reserve is in the midst of printing trillions of “Bernanke Bucks”. I hesitate to call them dollars, even though they’re similar in their look and feel. But in essence they are worth little more than the paper they’re printed on. And although you can’t tell them from the dollars circulating out there, their presence makes the those dollars worth less. The more BB’s there are out there, the less the remaining dollars are worth.
It is called “monetizing the debt”.
Or to pick up on Keyne’s point, we’re right in the middle of debauching our currency.
Now, there are several reasons for doing what is being done, and you may or may not agree with them. But it really doesn’t matter. Whether you agree or disagree, printing money for the right reasons or the wrong reasons still has the same effect.
If you think taxation is theft, inflation is no less than that. And in this case it is a calculated theft. Those printing the “Bernanke Bucks” know precisely what the effect on your net worth will be.
Buchanan concludes his piece pointing out what we’ve talked about here for months – this is all about the belief we can avoid the pain:
Yet one senses that we are doing again exactly what we have done before in this generation. Rather than endure the pain and accept the sacrifices to cure us of our addiction, we are going back to the heroin. And this time, with Dr. Bernanke handling the needle, we may just overdose.
The road to hyper-inflation is paved with good, but seriously misguided intentions.
A week or so ago, I mentioned the fact that Russia was lobbying for a new international currency to replace the dollar and opined that it most likely wouldn’t have any legs. By itself, Russia just didn’t have enough clout to bring about such a change. But apparently Russia was only the beginning. Later that same week, the UN came out in favor of a new currency option:
A U.N. panel will next week recommend that the world ditch the dollar as its reserve currency in favor of a shared basket of currencies, a member of the panel said on Wednesday, adding to pressure on the dollar.
Currency specialist Avinash Persaud, a member of the panel of experts, told a Reuters Funds Summit in Luxembourg that the proposal was to create something like the old Ecu, or European currency unit, that was a hard-traded, weighted basket.
Persaud, chairman of consultants Intelligence Capital and a former currency chief at JPMorgan, said the recommendation would be one of a number delivered to the United Nations on March 25 by the U.N. Commission of Experts on International Financial Reform.
“It is a good moment to move to a shared reserve currency,” he said.
But does the UN have enough leverage to push something like this through? Probably not without some fairly powerful backers of the idea. And speaking strictly of the UN, any such proposal would have to pass through the Security Council, and it’s unlikely the US would sanction such a change.
Today, though, China came out in favor of doing exactly what Russia and the UN recommend:
China’s central bank on Monday proposed replacing the US dollar as the international reserve currency with a new global system controlled by the International Monetary Fund.
In an essay posted on the People’s Bank of China’s website, Zhou Xiaochuan, the central bank’s governor, said the goal would be to create a reserve currency “that is disconnected from individual nations and is able to remain stable in the long run, thus removing the inherent deficiencies caused by using credit-based national currencies”.
As was noted last week, China has some concerns about the US economy:
“This is a clear sign that China, as the largest holder of US dollar financial assets, is concerned about the potential inflationary risk of the US Federal Reserve printing money,” said Qu Hongbin, chief China economist for HSBC.
And that’s a valid concern. With the Fed pumping out trillions of freshly printed dollars, inflation is almost assured.
In case you haven’t noticed, Russia and China are two of the four countries known as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China). These emerging economies feel they deserve more clout than they now enjoy. And they’re meeting in advance of the upcoming G20 meeting in April of this year:
Finance ministers and central bankers from Brazil, Russia, India and China will convene ahead of the Group of 20 finance chiefs’ meeting in London on Friday, a Russian delegation source told Reuters on Thursday.
The source said the four will discuss the reform of international financial organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the Financial Stability Forum, anti-crisis policies and preparations for the G20 summit in April.
Take a look again at China’s proposal for basing the international reserve currency in the IMF and the topic of their upcoming meeting in advance of the G20. Suddenly Russia’s proposal has some legs.
What clout does BRIC bring to the proposal? Well they are the holders of vast portions of the currency reserves around the world:
China runs the world’s biggest reserves, Russia comes 3rd, India 4th and Brazil 7th, as of last autumn.
Keep an eye out for Brazil and India weighing in on this. Should they come out in favor of such a change, as has China, it could portend some fireworks at the G20.
In the meantime, read this by Mikkel Fishman. It will explain some of the deeper and less evident problems we face. Then take a moment to look around and reflect. In my estimation, this truly is the calm before the storm.
James Joyner wonders:
To my non-economist mind, that sounds eerily remniscient of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), the $700 billion plan passed last October to prop up the frozen financial system by buying, well, troubled assets. Granting, arguendo, that the Bush administration, which ran the first part of TARP, was evil and incompetent and the Obama administration is all sweetness, light, and omniscience, why would this work any better the second time around?
Paul Krugman, as we noted last week, is not impressed by this plan at all:
This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair.
After all, we’ve just been through the firestorm over the A.I.G. bonuses, during which administration officials claimed that they knew nothing, couldn’t do anything, and anyway it was someone else’s fault. Meanwhile, the administration has failed to quell the public’s doubts about what banks are doing with taxpayer money.
And now Mr. Obama has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they’re doing.
It’s as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street. And by the time Mr. Obama realizes that he needs to change course, his political capital may be gone.
Krugman goes on to discuss the economics of the situation and a relatively easy way to solve the banking problem. Probably one of the more striking lines in his discussion is:
But the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, apparently wants an easier way out.
This speaks to a theory we’ve all discussed about certain aspects of the job of president in which Barack Obama displays very little interest. From his chuckling though his “punch drunk” interview with Steve Frost yesterday on “60 Minutes” (an invitation to view him as unserious about the crisis) to his seeking an easy and fast solution to the banking crisis, it seems that this is one of those areas which holds little interest for him. He wants it dealt with as quickly as possible (or at least seemingly dealt with so it is at least off of the front pages) so he can move on to his real interest – his costly social agenda.
Anyway, read all of the Krugman critique.
Brad DeLong thinks Krugman may be wrong and lists 3 reasons why:
1. The half empty-half full factor: I see the Geithner Plan as a positive step from where we are. Paul seed it as an embarrassingly inadequate bandaid.
2. Politics: I think Obama has to demonstrate that he has exhausted all other options before he has a prayer of getting Voinovich to vote to close debate on a bank nationalization bill. Paul thinks that the longer Obama delays proposing bank nationalization the lower it’s chances become.
3. I think the private-sector players in financial markets right now are highly risk averse–hence assets are undervalued from the perspective of a society or a government that is less risk averse. Paul judges that assets have low values beceuse they are unlikely to pay out much cash.
While it is nice to be optimistic, it is also important to be realistic. Frankly I think DeLong’s optimism isn’t realistic in the face of this particular crisis and I’m inclined to believe the Krugman critique to be more “spot on”. I have no confidence that this plan will solve the problem.
One of the problems the administration faces which is above and beyond the “workability” of the plan itself is related to the AIG bonus blowup in Congress. Private investors are gunshy about participating – for good reason:
The backlash on Capitol Hill means private firms may think twice about taking part in Geithner’s public-private partnership, even though government financing will limit their risk and increase the potential of earning profits, said David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer of Cumberland Advisors Inc., in Vineland, New Jersey.
“We expect that the participation in the program to be announced this coming week will be tepid at best” because of “fear that any action which puts them into the federal assistance plan will subject them to the chance of retroactive punishment and taxation,” Kotok said.
A real “chilling effect” given Congressional and adminstration overreaction to the bonus situation. Reports are Obama is cooling to the idea of retroactive taxation, but, right or wrong, there is still going to be a demand for some sort of action. We’ll see what sort of leadership Obama tries to exert concerning those bonuses if any.
At least when it comes to spending money. Business takes a hard look at the potential and when there doesn’t seem to be any, it pulls back. Government, on the other hand, decides it believes something has a future and spends money to try to make their belief a reality.
Oil Major Royal Dutch Shell Plc doesn’t plan to make any more large investments in wind and solar energy in the future and does not expect hydrogen to play an important role in energy supply for some time.
“We do not expect material amounts of investment in those areas going forward,” Linda Cook, head of Shell’s gas and power unit told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday.
“They continue to struggle to compete with the other investment opportunities we have in our portfolio,” Cook said of solar and wind.
Shell’s future involvement in renewables will be principally limited to biofuels, which the world’s second-largest non- government-controlled oil company by market value believes is a better fit with its core oil and gas operations.
Now let’s be clear. “Oil companies” such as Royal Dutch Shell understand that in reality they’re “energy companies”. They realize that somewhere in the far distant future, we’ll wean ourselves from fossil fuels and they need to be in a position to supply what we decide is the viable alternative fuel(s) for that time. And my guess is, they’ll do so.
However, on a purely business assessment of “potential” (that would be potential profit) for some of the favorite alternatives of this era, Shell just doesn’t see a real future, at this time, in solar, wind or hydrogen.
With one exception:
In the past year, the company said it was refocusing its wind business on the U.S. as it pulled out of European projects.
Can anyone guess why that may be? Well, whether or not wind works or has a real application anytime soon, there’s money being promised for R&D. Why not get a little of it even while pulling back in Europe where it sees no real future for wind at this time? They’d like to keep researching it, but why spend their own money when it would appear they can use yours?
Meanwhile, I’m sure we’ll hear all about the government no longer subsidizing Big Oil with tax breaks (while you pay the difference at the pump).
I’m no arguing for tax subsidies or anything else. I’m just pointing out a few things. Shell obviously believes there’s no real business potential in the alternatives it’s backing out on right now. But it will certainly accept subsidy money for wind research if our government is handing it out, all the while our government is telling us it is no longer subsidizing Big Oil. It’s an irony thing.
In the meantime, given Shell’s decision, I don’t expect much from the billions of your money the government plans on throwing at alternatives any times soon. But I could be wrong. After all, isn’t there a new emerging “conventional wisdom” about markets among the anti-capitalists among us?
Markets – they’re always wrong, aren’t they?
This parallel world that exists only within the DC beltway and where the laws of economics don’t apply has got to be merged again with the real world we all live in as soon as possible:
Despite new estimates that say President Barack Obama’s budget would generate unsustainable large deficits averaging almost $1 trillion a year, the White House insisted Friday that the flood of red ink won’t swamp its costly agenda.
The Congressional Budget Office figures released Friday predict Obama’s budget will produce $9.3 trillion worth of red ink over 2010-2019. That’s $2.3 trillion worse than the administration predicted in its budget just last month.
Worst of all, CBO says the deficit under Obama’s policies would never go below 4 percent of the size of the economy, figures that economists agree are unsustainable. By the end of the decade, the deficit would exceed 5 percent of gross domestic product, a dangerously high level.
Just feast your eyes on those statements. First – 10 years of trillion dollar deficits “won’t swamp” the “costly agenda” of the Obama administration? Really? Or is it just that the administration refuses to acknowledge the reality of the coming deficits and intends to imperil the economy to push its social agenda forward? Which is more likely true?
And how does the administration address the CBO projections?
White House budget chief Peter Orszag said that CBO’s economic projections are more pessimistic than those of the White House, private economists and the Federal Reserve and that he remained confident that Obama’s budget, if enacted, would produce smaller deficits.
Orszag, the former director of the CBO, now finds the CBO just isn’t an entity in which we should put much stock when it comes to budget analysis – especially when it finds such budget numbers “unsustainable”. Nope. Instead we should heed the Fed – which has proven to be such an economic font of solutions in this current crisis – and unnamed “private economists” whose only claim to fame is they agree with the administration’s projections. The organization Orszag previously led suddenly has a credibility problem.
However Orszag did have to admit that if the CBO is right, well, that’s a horse of a different color:
Even so, Orszag acknowledged that if the CBO projections prove accurate, Obama’s budget would produce deficits that could not be sustained. “Deficits in the, let’s say, 5 percent of GDP range would lead to rising debt-to-GDP ratios that would ultimately not be sustainable,” Orszag told reporters.
Of course there have been many economic analysts prior to the CBO projections who have found the administration’s projections to be very optimistic in outlying years, in fact the term “rose colored glasses” seems most apropos.
So which makes more sense to you in this particular time of financial crisis- listen to those who say your projections are too rosy and trim them back (and the deficits they produce) to ensure that should it happen as the more pessimistic projections hold, you don’t chance pushing the nation into a period of unsustainable debt, or waive them off and take the chance that you’re right and they’re not?
“Caution” seems like a very important watch-word at this point, or it should be.
Instead we’re seeing a “damn the icebergs, full speed ahead” attitude from the crew of the economic Titanic.
So, the Fed, for the first time since the 1960s, is buying back long-term bonds as part of it’s new policy, announced today, of buying back $1.2 trillion in securities to pump out cash into the economy.
With the country sinking deeper into recession, the Federal Reserve launched a bold $1.2 trillion effort Wednesday to lower rates on mortgages and other consumer debt, spur spending and revive the economy. To do so, the Fed will spend up to $300 billion to buy long-term government bonds and an additional $750 billion in mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
On top of this, short-term interest rates are already at 0%. The fed has one monetary policy tool left–massive increases in the money supply–and they’re using it with a vengeance. This purchase of $300B in treasury bonds will be a signifigant increase in demand, pushing treasury prices up, and yields down. The 10-year note’s yield dropped to 2.5% in the aftermath of this announcement.
Our fundamental problem is still that the banking sector has their balance sheets all out of whack, and the Obama Adminsitration still has no apparent plan for clearing up bank balance sheets via recapitalization, or…well…anything else. Now, theoretically, that much new money being created would lower mortgage rates signifigantly. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 20-year fixed rates at 5% or less.
This action, however, opens the door for massive inflation. The inflationary implications of this move are so huge, that there’s simply no way the loans could be anything but a money-loser for the banks, because a 5% mortage rate may well be far below the rate of inflation. That will kill banks already weakened by their bad loan portfolios.
This is an extraordinary gamble of the Fed’s part. If this new money doesn’t stimulate a signifigant increase in demand for money, then we are going to have a huge pool of money chasing a very small pool of goods. The market knows it, too, and understands the inflationary implications. The dollar cratered in the FOREX market today, and analysts aren’t excited about the long-term implications:
Bernanke’s view that currency devaluation may be beneficial to economic growth speaks for itself,” writes Mr. Merk. “But even if there are no active efforts to debase the currency, we are cautious about the U.S. dollar. That’s because we simply do not see a viable exit strategy to all the money that is being thrown at the system.”
“[W]e simply do not see a viable exit strategy to all the money that is being thrown at the system” because there is no viable exit strategy. We are either going to have serious inflation, or the Fed will have to tighten up so severely at some point in the near future that it will kill economic growth anyway.
In “Texas Hold ‘Em” terms, this is the equivalent of the Fed going “all in”. We’ve essentially reached the limits of our monetary policy tools with this action.
Glad they finally noticed:
The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, worried that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Obama’s agenda.
Of course the greatest stoker of this populist backlash has been the Obama administration. I’ll be the first to agree that some of the financial institutions, such as AIG recently, have played into the populist condemnation by the administration, but instead of being specific about the AIGs of the world, they have instead gone after an entire industry to the point that “banks and Wall Street” are synonymous with crooks, swindlers and liars. Having established that narrative, seemingly purposely, there’s now a huge backlash building which may, in fact, cripple the administration’s efforts pertaining to both.
“We’ve got enormous problems that need to be addressed,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, said in an interview. “And it’s hard to address because there’s a lot of anger about the irresponsibility that led us to this point.”
“This has been welling up for a long time,” he said.
Mr. Obama’s aides said any surge of such a sentiment could complicate efforts to win Congressional approval for the additional bailout packages that Mr. Obama has signaled will be necessary to stabilize the banking system.
As it is, there have already been moves in Congress to limit compensation to executives at banks and Wall Street firms that are receiving government help to survive.
Beyond that, a shifting political mood challenges Mr. Obama’s political skills, as he seeks to acknowledge the anger without becoming a target of it. A central question for Mr. Obama is whether his cool style — “in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger,” he said in his address to Congress last month — will prove effective when the country may be feeling more emotional.
And the country is feeling emotional because the administration has been making emotional arguments targeting the industry it wants to help. Not very smart politics. And they’ve now finally realized that.
“Never underestimate the capacity of angry populism in times of economic stress,” said Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “A big challenge for President Obama will be to maintain a rational and tactical public discussion in the midst of this severe downturn. The desire for culprits at times like this is strong.”
The “culprit” has been identified. In their desire to escape blame, government officials in Congress and elsewhere have almost unanimously used their access to the media to vilify banks and Wall Street while pretending they had no hand whatsoever in this debacle. Unfortunately they’ve been quite successful in the scapegoating. However, having established the narrative, they now have to attempt to reverse it because the public rage they’ve helped stoke may prevent them from doing what they think they need to do to turn the financial industry around.
The entire problem that the administration is now recognizing is one of their own making and another indication of their inexperience and lack of foresight. It’s one thing to demonize such industries when campaigning, it is, as they’re learning, an entirely different thing when you do it as the President of the United States. The administration now has to figure out how to reverse a narrative they helped build and establish. That should be interesting to watch.