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We're Still Getting Screwed: Geithner Plan Will Make the Rich Richer!

Some hedge and equity fund managers could make hundreds of millions or even billions off the Geithner plan.

The new consensus among the experts who missed the housing bubble (EMHB) is that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's plan to subsidize the purchase of junk mortgages and their derivatives will help alleviate the stress on the banking system. That's good news.

These geniuses have devised a plan that for $1 trillion (approximately equal to 300 million kid-years of SCHIP, the State Child Health Insurance Program) can alleviate the stress on the banking system. Note that no one claims that $1 trillion spent on the Geithner plan will actually clean up the banking system - that would be asking too much. The EMHB only assure us that this $1 trillion (more than enough to have energy conserving retrofits for every building in the country) will make things better. Isn't that enough?

Oh, by the way, some people will get very rich off the Geithner plan. Some hedge and equity fund managers could make hundreds of millions or even billions off the Geithner plan. And, under current law, they will pay a lower tax rate on this money than a schoolteacher or firefighter. Are you sold yet?

One other outcome of the Geithner plan is that the folks who bankrupted their banks and wrecked the economy will be able to continue to earn multi-million dollar salaries. Of course this is necessary, because who else has the skills to run these banks, other than the people who drove them into bankruptcy?

For some reason, every plan the EMHB have developed so far involves using taxpayer dollars to subsidize the bankrupt banks and keep them breathing a little bit longer, while offering opportunities for other Wall Street actors to get hugely wealthy. Some people say that the EMHB keep coming up with plans that enrich the Wall Street crew because they are so closely tied to the Wall Street financial interests.

It is, of course, possible that the EMHB are too closely tied to the financial industry, but it's also possible that they just lack the creativity and imagination to think of a plan that doesn't enrich the Wall Street crew. After all, these people lacked the ability to see an $8 trillion housing bubble, the largest financial bubble in the history of the world. So, let's see if we can help them out.

The core problem is that many of the largest banks are bankrupt. They are currently concealing this bankruptcy by listing assets on their books at prices that are far above their market value. In principle, they can do this for a long time, unless the government forces them to write-down the value of these assets. As long as the banks are bankrupt, they will not make new loans, limiting the ability of many businesses to get capital.

Instead of Geithner's plan to allow banks to sell these assets at a subsidized price, we can go the other way. Geithner could have announced a plan to clean up the banks, following a standard FDIC-type takeover.

This approach could harness the power of existing bondholders to help the government clean up the banks quickly. Geithner could, for example, promise to honor the banks' commitments to bondholders in full, if the banks recognized their losses immediately. Bondholders, however, would be offered a lower payback rate for each month that the banks waited.

So, if a bank waited one month, the bondholders would only get a guarantee for 90 percent of the value of their assets. If the bank waited two months, the payback would fall to 85 percent and so on. (Note the issue here is bank bonds that the government has no legal or moral obligation to pay off. The government will, of course, pay off the banks' FDIC-insured deposits.)