Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Big Bail

Perhaps you, like me, were somewhat anxious when the news of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG were announced with all the anxiety and language of impending Depression and world-wide economic melt down. The Treasurer of the United States, Hank Paulson, was on TV saying that the only way to prevent this was to hand a blank check of $700 billion to the genius's on Wall Street who began this process by selling money to folks who were bad risks or who were over-extended as it was. Mortgage backed securities, derivatives as they are referred to, have begun a domino collapse in our economy. The solution is to saddle each man,woman and child in America with $2,300 of debt.

Immediately the Presidential campaign's reacted to this news/crisis. John McCain's solution was to "fire" the head of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and Barak Obama's response was more cautious, reflective and thoughtful with no immediate action recommended. What one was better?

I believe we have come through eight years of knee-jerk reaction with a President who reacts with his "gut" when advisers recommend otherwise. The time for Mavericks and Cowboys is over for a while I hope. A quick decisive action which may be completely wrong headed, may convey leadership to some people. Not me.

I believe that Obama's reaction was the correct one---this is a complex, detailed and highly volatile situation. No one seems to have a handle on the whole picture. While a reaction may save Wall Street, it may also encourage bad behavior on the part of Wall Street. If we don't act in some way, the regular guy on the street will surely suffer untold financial disaster.

What needs to happen is to help Wall Street enough to make sure the local homeowner and credit card consumer is protected. The multi-million dollar salaries of Wall Street corporate execs should be their problem. Not ours. Telling Boards of Directors how they should pay their staff is micromanaging an issue the government is not equipped to micromanage.

And that's the point. A knee jerk solution usually ends up micromanaging a "piece" of a crisis without the time needed to truly do a systemic analysis of a rotten system and to make it healthier and better not only for the economy but also the average person who is not (and never will be) a millionaire.

Now is a time for clear and level headed people to prevail. Quick fixes will yield quick and short term results. Its time we take stock of how free the "free market" should be allowed to run. What is the appropriate role of regulation without throwing the baby out with the bath water. I hope that Congress will act in this manner and help us all learn that greed, short-term quick yields and unfettered capitalism is not the answer to a healthy and productive economy to work for everybody.


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