President Obama is rethinking the unpopular $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, said Jeremy Warner in Britain’s The Independent. The $350 billion given to prop up banks before he took office appears to have “found its way straight into bankers’ back pockets in the form of hefty bonuses,” so Obama’s team is considering at least a partial return to the original plan: creating a “bad bank” to buy the toxic assets poisoning banks’ balance sheets.
The “bad bank” strategy “is aptly named, because it’s a bad idea,” said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. First, it’s “well-nigh impossible to determine the right price” for the toxic debt. If the government overpays, using the banks’ valuations, taxpayers eat the loss. But the assets are worth more than what they’d fetch in today’s market. Rather than buying the assets, the U.S. should guarantee a portion of the their value, for a fee.
Such “guarantees would represent a big gift to bank stockholders,” said Paul Krugman in The New York Times, and why should taxpayers “bear the cost” if the assets never recover, while “stockholders and executives get the benefits if things go right”? That’s called “lemon socialism.” Let’s be capitalists: rather than preserving “the illusion of private ownership,” we taxpayers should reap any rewards from the banks we invest in.
That kind of “populism may feel good,” said Charlie Gasparino in The Daily Beast, but it won’t get us out of this mess. Obama’s team will probably opt for a “kitchen sink” approach to the new TARP, and for it to have any chance of success, they’ll need Wall Street’s help. Yes, these bankers created this crisis, but that means “they know where the bodies are buried.” If we want to avoid “breadlines,” we may have to tone down the “Wall Street bashing.”