Have Geithner's Zombie Ideas Won? Paul Krugman on the "Cash for Trash" Program
Continued from previous page
Goodman: You write, “The Obama administration has apparently made the judgment that there would be a public outcry if it announced a straightforward plan along these lines,” which is, you know, government buying up the troubled assets, “so it has produced what Yves Smith calls ‘a lot of bells and whistles to finesse the fact that the government will wind up paying well above market [value] for”—and you can’t say the rest.
Krugman: Yeah, I still can’t say the rest, which was not Times style. But yeah, ultimately, when you get the—when you get through the complexities and the salesmanship, this is just a complicated way of having the government pay, having you and me pay, for buying these assets at more than any private investor is willing to pay for them.
Goodman: You talk about why you’re so vehement about this right now, why you see this is the critical moment.
Krugman: I think—this is a political judgment. We can argue this back and forth. But I think that Obama doesn’t get many shots at this, maybe just one. There’s already a huge public outcry, which doesn’t distinguish between the things we need to do and the things that were just mistakes. And for Obama to go and do this plan and put a lot of taxpayer money on the line and for it not to work, which I’m almost certain is what would happen, I don’t think he can come back to Congress for a plan that might actually work. I think that there’s a real—the stimulus is something of the same thing. You have to do this right, right away, because the political mood is getting ugly, for good reason, and there’s not a lot of patience with failed approaches, especially failed approaches that seem like your administration is just too close to Wall Street.
Goodman: Paul Krugman, can you talk about the role of foreign sovereign wealth funds and explain what they are?
Krugman: Oh, yeah. It’s just when a foreign government has a bunch of money which it is investing in the United States or in other countries, and as opposed to—this is when you do something beyond just plain parking lots of money in bank deposits or US government debt, which is where most of the foreign money is. You know, I think that’s a much exaggerated issue. It’s—yeah, these are governments playing with large sums of money. At least so far, all the evidence is that they’ve been really pretty dumb investors. The Chinese appear to have given us a substantial subsidy by buying a lot of stocks at the top of the market and losing them. So I’m not that—I don’t think it’s a central issue.
Goodman: And this issue of counterparties, a word we’re just learning right now, that AIG gets all of these billions of dollars, and they use some of it to pass through to banks once—well, to entities like Goldman Sachs, to UBS, which had to pay a massive fine to the US government, so we’re paying their fine for violating us?
Krugman: Well, this is—the counterparties—basically, think of the financial system as this web of connections. And the reason that we’re stepping in to rescue these companies in the first place is that we’re afraid that if you break the web at one point, it unravels across a pretty wide range. And that’s not just a theory. When Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail, in fact, a huge gaping hole opened up across the financial system. So this is the reason that we’re rescuing them in the first place.