Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Case For Nationalization?

The Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday about New York University economics professor Nouriel Roubini and Mr. Roubini's case for a government takeover of American banks.

An excerpt:

Mr. Roubini tells me that bank nationalization "is something the partisans would have regarded as anathema a few weeks ago. But when I and others put it in the context of the Swedish approach [of the 1990s] -- i.e. you take banks over, you clean them up, and you sell them in rapid order to the private sector -- it's clear that it's temporary. No one's in favor of a permanent government takeover of the financial system."

There's another reason why the concept should appeal to (fiscal) conservatives, he explains. "The idea that government will fork out trillions of dollars to try to rescue financial institutions, and throw more money after bad dollars, is not appealing because then the fiscal cost is much larger. So rather than being seen as something Bolshevik, nationalization is seen as pragmatic. Paradoxically, the proposal is more market-friendly than the alternative of zombie banks."

In any case, Republicans must now temper their reactions, he says. "The kind of government interference in the economy that we saw in the last year of Bush was unprecedented. The central bank -- supposed to be the lender of the last resort -- became the lender of first and only resort! With our recapitalizing of financial institutions, and massive government intervention in the markets, we've already crossed a significant bridge."

So, will the highest level of government be receptive to the bank-nationalization idea? "I think it will," Mr. Roubini says, unhesitatingly. "People like Graham and Greenspan have already given their explicit blessing. This gives Obama cover." And how long will it be before the administration goes in formally for nationalization? "I think that we're going to see the policy adopted in the next few months . . . in six months or so."
The whole article is worth a read.

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