Saturday, September 20, 2008

Super-Fed to the rescue?

In the wake of the recent upheavals in the financial sector, president Bush has come to the rescue. He and his economic advisors have come up with a Legislative Proposal for Treasury Authority to Purchase Mortgage-Related Assets. Not willing to rely on the media's descriptions of it, I read the complete text of the actual proposal myself. It strikes me as a unidimensional, monolithic solution to a complex, multidimensional problem.

It's clear to me how this proposal would artificially inflate the valuations of mortgage-backed securities that otherwise lack a foundation of intrinsic value. I can see how this would benefit institutions and investors who own these securities. However, I fail to understand how the proposal rescues the two remaining members of the investment banking oligopoly or how it helps distressed homeowners who purchased homes they could not afford.

This Progressive is no economist but I do grasp economic concepts well enough to understand explanations about the economy. So I invite you to post comments to help me out. Please explain to me how bailing out AIG prevents the collapse of our financial system. I've heard a lot of economists claim that the bankruptcy of AIG would have led to the downfall of the financial system but none of them says why or how.

Bush's proposal permits the purchase of mortgage-related assets only from financial institutions. I understand how this benefits the fat cats on Wall Street who manage firms like AIG that irresponsibly speculated on such securities and how it pays off individual speculators who can now divest their REITs which would otherwise be worthless. But can you explain to me how it alleviates the pain felt by homeowners who irresponsibly obligated themselves to trust deeds that they knew they couldn't possibly afford to pay off when their interest rates reset?

It seems to me that the proposal does nothing for those responsible homeowners who only purchased a home when they knew they could afford to service the loan rather than betting on perpetual appreciation. It does nothing for those renters who recognize that they cannot afford to purchase their own home with an ARM and a leg. It does nothing for middle-class Americans who diversified their retirement accounts rather than investing them purely in REITs, even though they paid substantial returns early in this century. And it does nothing for the small businesses on Main Street that responsibly plow their retained earnings back into assets that they use in operations rather than in risky securities.

When I pull back and take a broad look at this proposal, I simply don't understand the positive macroeconomic impact it would have. I can see an elite cohort that will make out from it but I only see the proposal wreaking further damage on the economy at large. Somehow I can't see how piling an additional $700-billion onto our national debt will rescue us from economic collapse.

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