Nationalization and Capitalism

This is my last post on nationalization for at least a week, and hopefully a lot longer than that. I’m tired of writing about it. But I was listening to Raghuram  Rajan on Planet Money, and things became a little more clear to me.

Rajan was saying that he had some concerns about nationalization and didn’t think it was necessary to fix the banking system. His concerns were sensible, I have counter-arguments for them, and I don’t want to get into a detailed debate here. More importantly, he agreed with the nationalizers that the system is broken, hasn’t been fixed, and needs to be fixed – he just thinks you could do it a different way.

We’ve talked and talked about it but never actually taken action. We need to take some of the bad assets off the balance sheet. We need to recapitalize the banks to the extent that is needed after that, and that might mean more and more government ownership, that’s a possibility. . . .

The real issue is the taxpayer, unfortunately, has to put more money into the system; hopefully much of it will be recovered. He has to put more money in in the short run, both in buying these assets off balance sheets, and recapitalizing the banks, so that the banks then have clean enough balance sheets such that they will begin to lend when the system recovers. . . . If you can clean up the system, my sense is whether you call it nationalization, or call it cleaning up by putting more money without nationalizing, cleaning up is the first-order thing.

I think there are three main positions in this debate:

  • A1: The banking system is broken. Banks need to get rid of their toxic assets and they need more capital. The solution is for the government to buy their toxic assets at a high price (or insure those assets) and to give them lots of cheap capital.
  • A2: The banking system is broken. Banks need to get rid of their toxic assets and they need more capital. The solution is for the government to take them over, transfer off their toxic assets, recapitalize them, and (when possible) sell them back into the private sector.
  • B: The banking system is basically sound and will recover if we give it some time. In the meantime, the government should give the banks just enough money and intervene as little as possible to keep them afloat until asset prices recover.

The big divide is not between A1 (Rajan) and A2 (Simon and me). In both cases, you end up with a healthy banking system, at significant taxpayer expense. (A2 should be somewhat cheaper because it wipes out the shareholders, but I agree with Rajan that it is dramatically cheaper only  if the government is willing to restructure some of the liabilities.)

The big divide is between both of these and B, the position of the Bush and Obama administrations – both of which rejected aggressive measures in favor of just-in-time, just-big-enough bailouts. Now the government is conducting stress tests on an industry it has already said is adequately capitalized, and will follow that with a public-private asset-buying program that tries to split the difference between paying real market value and paying enough to keep the banks happy. I’ve quoted these exact words before, but here’s Krugman again: “The actual plan seems to be to keep the banks semi-alive by implicitly guaranteeing their liabilities and dribbling in money as necessary, all the while proclaiming that they’re adequately capitalized — and hope that things turn up.”

Now, let’s say you agree that something more needs to be done. Then you have to choose between A1 and A2. A2 is the one people typically call “nationalization.” But which is more consistent with a capitalist system: protecting the creditors who lent money to a failed bank, the shareholders who invested in a failed bank, and the managers who failed . . . or firing the managers, wiping out the shareholders, and maybe, if possible without triggering collateral damage, forcing some of the creditors to take some losses? Which one better approximates the incentives you want in a free market?


Originally published at The Baseline Scenario and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

2 Responses to "Nationalization and Capitalism"

  1. Wingnut   March 14, 2009 at 11:20 am

    HiYou DO see the pyramid scheme symbol on the back of the USA one dollar bill, right? You DO see the servitude infestation in capitalism, right? And do you see the “pay up or lose your wellbeing” Chicago mob-like felony extortion widespread within capitalism? Do you see the “join or starve” felony extortion done to the 18 year olds… by this ugly competer’s church called capitalism? See how forcing competer’s religions onto 18 year olds… kills membership in the cooperator’s church (Christianity/socialism)?? Do you understand that AmWay (American Way) (New World Order) got “the exclusive” (legal tender) on the TYPE of survival coupons (money) accepted in supply depots (stores) and leverages 18 years olds into the organization via that felony activity as well? (It puts AmWay-coupon slaving requirements called price tags… on all the survival goods). Do you understand how farmyard pyramids work… from your childhood?? Remember?? Upper 1/3 are “heads in the clouds” while the kids on the bottom ALWAYS GET HURT from the weight of the world’s knees in their backs? Still with me? Do you see anything illegal, immoral, or just plain sick… in any of this pyramid scheme’s activities?Us American Christian socialists are still patiently awaiting the natural fall of the pyramid-o-servitude, or the busting of the free marketeers felony… by the USA Dept of Justice. Us Christians are VERY CLOSE to issuing a cease and desist order until the servitude and inequality goes away… which means it turns into a commune. Commune is a word we LOVE when used in the word “community”… but its one the caps HATE when used in the term “commune-ism”. Go fig. PROGRAMMED!!Do a Google IMAGE SEARCH for ‘pyramid of capitalist’ to see a full color picture made way back in 1911, when capitalism was first discovered to be a con/sham instigated by the Free Masons/Illuminati. Folks sure bought into the thing… hook, line, and sinker just the same. The caps didn’t even check if a string was attached! Now THAT’S easy fishing, eh?Time to level the felony pyramid scheme called capitalism. Abolish economies and ownershipism worldwide, and hurry. Economies just cause rat-racing, and rat-racing causes felony pyramiding. BUST IT, America! Look to the USA military supply/survival system… (and the USA public library system) for socialism and morals done right. Equal, owner-less, money-less, bill-less, timecard-less, and concerned with growth of value-criteria OTHER THAN money-value. Quit doing monetary discrimination immediately, and make it illegal. There are MANY measurement criteria of “value”… not just dollars. Try morals, efficiency, discrimination-levels, repairability, etc etc. Economies are cancerous tumors, and to cheer for their growth… is just insane. Profiting causes inflation, so if caps LIKE inflation, and if they LIKE a terrible time in afterlife when they meet the planet’s ORIGINAL OWNER before caps tried to squat it all with ownershipism, then keep it up with the felony pyramiding. I dare you. While us Christians are finally bulldozing that pyramid scheme back to level, lets make servitude and “join or starve” (get a job or die) illegal in the USA, and lets level the architecture seen in USA courtrooms, too. Right now, USA courtrooms are church simulators or “fear chambers”, by special design. Sick. Now that you’re done talking about nationalization, any chance you’d want to talk about Christianization?Larry “Wingnut” WendlandtMaStars – Mothers Against Stuff That Ain’t Right(anti-capitalism-ists)Bessemer MI USA

  2. Richard4691   March 14, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Elsewhere on RGE this week, Edward Harrison takes note that we are not talking about banks in the sense of Federally insured deposit taking institutions. There is some question about whether any government entity has the legal authority to launder the handful of wounded and systemically dangerous international broker-dealer financial conglomerates at the heart of the crisis. You are proposing radical surgery and there is really no knowing how the patient will survive or how the excised portions will play out. Unprecedented is an important word. It would be better to shrink the tumor first. The concentration of banking assets needs to be diminished. Securitizations need to be unwound, defeased. Conglomerates broken up outside of AIG style government ownership. The government needs to be thinking about how to encourge the migration of loans and deposits into stronger and safer hands. Meanwhile, consider that the nationalization of Citigroup or Goldman would have consequences perhaps best handled by the Dept of State, and here the analogies to what the IMF would do in a banana republic break down. I don’t disagree that the approach of the Obama team leaves plenty to be desired, but I do not think promoting a fantasy about in and out nationalization helps.