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The case for nationalizing banks
Reasons we should, or shouldn’t, take over failed lenders

“As bank shares plunge to new lows around the world,” said David Roche in The Wall Street Journal, we seem to be entering the next—hopefully, the last—chapter of the financial crisis. “The final word will probably be nationalization of the major financial institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom.” The piecemeal steps we’ve taken so far—propping up banks to prop up inflated assets—have only made the crisis last longer.

This “‘nationalize now’ meme” is being bandied about a little too casually, said James Surowiecki in The New Yorker. The financial crisis is bad, but it doesn’t “invalidate the general principle that private enterprise is typically better at efficiently allocating resources than government.” Also, it’s troubling, “even to a non-libertarian,” that the government could be in charge of determining who gets credit.

That’s why we should nationalize banks reluctantly, and “like real capitalists,” said Steve Waldman in Interfluidity (via RealClearPolitics). That means taking over failed, “systemically important” banks and running them like commercial lenders until we sell them off, not making them “tools of the state” to increase credit flows. If the government is “dumb enough to force-feed credit into the economy,” it can do so with “its own damned money.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but “we’ve already done a whole lot of nationalizing,” said Kevin Drum in Mother Jones online. Not including the forced take-overs or sell-offs of Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual, and Wachovia, “we’ve already nationalized three enormous financial institutions: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG." It seems we’re “more allergic to the word ‘nationalization’ than to the actual fact itself.”

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