THE TREASURY PLAN….The Washington Post has a brief tick-tock today explaining why Tim Geithner’s bank rescue plan, announced last week, was so anemic and lacking in detail. And I have to say that it didn’t leave me brimming with confidence in my economic betters. The basic problem, they say, was that at the last minute the Obama economic team decided that their plans were unworkable:
Senior economic officials had several approaches in mind, according to officials involved in the discussions. One would be to create an “aggregator bank,” or bad bank, that would take government capital and use it to buy up the risky assets on banks’ books. Another approach would be to offer banks a government guarantee against extreme losses on their assets, an approach already used to bolster Bank of America.
As the first week of February progressed, however, the problems with both approaches were becoming clearer to Geithner, said people involved in the talks. For one thing, the government would likely have to put trillions of dollars in taxpayer money at risk, a sum so huge it would anger members of Congress. Officials were also concerned that the program would be criticized as a pure giveaway to bank shareholders. And, finally, there continued to be the problem that had bedeviled the Bush administration’s efforts to tackle toxic assets: There was little reason to believe government officials would be able to price these assets in a way that gave taxpayers a good deal.
Say what? After nearly two years of crisis and weeks of work, they suddenly discovered that buying up toxic assets from banks was problematic because the assets were expensive, hard to value, and risky for taxpayers? That’s not exactly rocket science. Hell, someone who had only casually browsed through the blogosphere over the past year would know that. And not even the financial blogosphere. Just ordinary lay blogs like this one.
I really don’t know what to think of this. Maybe the Post has it wrong. (Though their account matches others I’ve read.) Maybe the problems were actually more subtle than the Post lets on. But it sure sounds as if the Treasury team spent months discovering little more than that the world is round. WTF?