Thursday, September 25, 2008

How Bad Is the Financial Crisis?

After listening to people talk about the crisis for days, I'm not so sure that it's as bad as I first thought it was. It should be pretty bad to warrant a $700 billion bailout. I thought people were talking about avoiding a depression; now they only seem to be talking about avoiding a recession. It it's a shallow recession, and there is no actual recession at all yet, then it may not be worth $700 billion. We've been through recessions before. We've only been through one depression in the last century. The fact that Bear Stearns, Lehman, Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG disappeared is unusual, but except for Lehman, they didn't really cease to exist; they just changed names or owners. Even part of Lehman was snapped up. So, how many jobs were lost? A few thousand at Lehman, and bonuses at some firms may be reduced a few million dollars. Nothing serious.

The talking heads are saying that agreement on a bailout bill is close today. At the moment, the stock market is up almost 300 points. On CNBC they have been saying that the credit markets are still acting badly. I'm not sure what that means, although some of it seems to be that banks are still demanding big interest rate spreads to loan money.

So, now I think this bailout may be overkill. Bush did not scare me sufficiently.

And John McCain is politicizing this crisis, if in fact it is one, for all it's worth, which may not be as much as I thought a few days ago. It's pretty clear that his plan was to attack Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress as soon as they approved a bill. The Republicans called his hand on it, because they don't want to go into elections with their party leader, McCain, calling them traitors to the Republican Party. So, instead McCain now claims to be riding to the rescue of the plan, rather than keeping hands off to attack it later.

One thing he is not doing: he is not putting country first. He's putting John McCain first. He has a tough choice. He has been a free-marketeer all his life. Now, does he violate all of his principles and support the bailout bill socializing Wall Street, or oppose it and run the risk of being responsible for the ensuing depression, if there is one? Obama has clearly been more presidential by taking Paulson and Bernanke at their word and pledging to support them with some caveats.

Although as a private citizen I am now skeptical, if I were in a position of power, and Paulson and Bernanke told me there was a genuine chance that the US could fall into a depression, I would support the bailout bill.

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