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Re: The Flim-Flam

Michael Kinsley joins Jeffrey Sachs and others in expressing misgivings about Tim Geithner’s public-private toxic asset clean-up deal. Kinsley has figured out the “game” — avoid Congress, don’t reveal how much this costs, conceal the amount the taxpayers will subsidize, and hope for the best. He concludes:

The plan is very, very clever. Maybe too clever. It depends on convincing smart financiers that there is a killing to be made investing, with government help, in toxic assets. Inevitably, when the dust settles, it will turn out that some private firms and individuals actually have made a killing, which will cause another eruption of populist resentment like the one over the AIG bonuses. Fear of such an eruption, and any retrospective mischief coming out of Congress as a result, is going to make private money harder to entice, which means the subsidies will have to be larger, which means the killings will even be greater.

The irony is, of course, as Kinsley noted, that excess complexity and a lack of transparency are what got us into this trouble. That’s the sort of observation candidate Obama made before assuming office. The Geithner Rube Goldberg contraption also undermines the notion that simply through “regulation” we could achieve a system without excess and with plenty of taxpayer protection. Not quite so fast.

Bank stocks and profits are up anyway; so why the need for drastic measures? It’s amazing how banks make money when they borrow at zero interest rates; today they are awash in cash. But remember, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste and the Obama administration isn’t about to let this one work itself out on its own.


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