Friday, September 26, 2008

Unlimited Liability

It had to happen. The talks on saving Wall St have failed, as they must. Time summarises the 7 Big Questions left unanswered so far. Bernanke and Paulson did themselves no favours earlier in the week. The economy is in terrible danger, and please give us at least US$700 billion to do with as we see fit on one hand. On the other hand, these worthless junk assets should be taken off the books at maturity valuation and not at current prices.

Clearly, things aren't so bad that there's no room for haggling. It's not enough to ask for a bailout bigger than the accumulated lending of the IMF since 1947. For me, this gob-smacking temerity brought to mind the simplistic ignorance of Yes Minister's Sir Desmond Glazebrook. Anatole Kaletsky at Times Online is less sympathetic:
Until last week, I was in a minority of one in arguing that Mr Paulson was personally responsible for suddenly turning the painful but manageable credit crunch that had been grinding away 18 months in the background of the US economy into a global catastrophe. Mr Paulson's appearances on Capitol Hill, marked by the characteristic Bush-era combination of arrogance and incompetence, are turning my once-outlandish view into conventional wisdom: Henry Paulson is to finance what Donald Rumsfeld was to military strategy, Dick Cheney to geopolitics and Michael Chertoff to flood defence.
I don't think there's any way of avoiding what George Bush describes as a painful recession. What this bailout is supposed to be preventing is a painful depression. Bernanke and Paulson are in no position to haggle.