Out of Control Policy Blog

Assessing the $700 billion bailout plan

Treasury Secretary Paulson and President Bush seem to be under the delusion that their plan to fix the economy is the best and only one out there. Gone are the days where central planning was rejected–even by Russia and China. If Congressional leaders really have the best interests of Americans at heart they will consider the vast array of other (and better) options available:

  • Eliminate the capital-gains tax to free up liquidity in the markets;
  • Cut corporate taxes in general to free up liquidity and encourage foreign investment;
  • Eliminate or suspend the federal "mark-to-market" accounting rules that are unnecessarily forcing firms into bankruptcy;
  • Repeal the Sarbanes-Oxley law (which obviously hasn't worked) that is hurting entrepreneurial spirit; and
  • Lift the short-selling ban put in place to "cool down" markets that is artificially skewing the price and value of companies.
  • All of those actions should provide Wall Street with enough confidence to keep the stock market alive and keep companies from going into massive bankruptcy.

    The government can also (more controversially among free market thinkers) temporarily provide insurance for money-market funds and similar investment vehicles to ensure investor confidence BUT should only do so at a price accurately reflecting market risk.

    Of course banks and other financial firms will still lose money on their bad investments. Subprime mortgages will still cause private sector losses–as is deserved by those who put their money in a high-risk, high-yield investment vehicle. In the end, Congress may just consider that unacceptable.

    If the White House/Treasury Department's proposed $700 billion bailout is inevitable then Congress should keep in mind that propping up failing businesses will only perpetuate the problem of dependency and face this crisis again in the future. The philosophy of "too big to fail" feeds on itself to a supremely negative end.

    Congress should not be in the business of sustaining firms that deserve to fail–though an argument could be made that they can assist in an orderly dissolution and acquisition (consider the bankruptcy of Bear Stearns as opposed to Lehman Brothers).

    The government cannot continue to take on failing institutions in this process either. Already burdened with AIG and the FMs, the least the Congress could do is ensure that the Treasury is only buying assets and not businesses with their $700 billion check.

    Finally, if the bailout is inevitable, then Congress should only pass a bailout and not tack on other measures to the legislation to meet the demands of individual constituents or special interests. Already proposed are provisions on increasing unemployment benefits, food stamps, and Medicaid funding. And Democrats have been insisting hard that a CEO compensation cap be issued to stop the so-called "golden parachutes" that grant large exit packages to fired executives. This should stay strictly a bailout bill so that we only are screwed from one end and not a dozen others.

    Anthony Randazzo is Director of Economic Research


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