Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thoughts on "The Plan"

Well, “The Plan” is becoming a reality. What exactly it is and whether or not it will be successful is still a mystery. That is not the issue at this point in time.

To me the important thing is the philosophy behind “The Plan”. Up to now the policy makers have been shooting at a moving target…and the target that they have been going for is usually behind where the market and the institutions are. Thus, the policy makers have always been behind the curve…and things keep getting worse.

Now a new effort is being made. I think that we can clearly see the hand of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke behind this move. I think that Bernanke finally won the day with the AIG effort. Bernanke, the student of the Great Depression, finally convinced everyone that the only way to really stop the down draft that was going on was to get out in front of it…not keep shooting behind it.

That is, the action had to be big enough to overwhelm the debt deflation going on.

This is the lesson from the Great Depression. One cannot let the debt deflation continue to cumulate. One must get out ahead of it.

This doesn’t mean that such actions may not cause problems in the future…inflation, moral hazard, or whatever. None of these are the problem now. If such problems are present in the future then the future will just have to deal with them. First…we have to reach the future without a major collapse.

The concern now is that debt deflation will get out-of-hand and the problem will only grow with time. That is why the policy makers believe that it is necessary to create a big enough plan to get ahead of the cumulating debt deflation and do more than is necessary to stop the downward cycle.

Will it be big enough? Will it succeed? Who knows? This is decision making under uncertainty and we are way beyond graduate school!

The policymakers believe that this package will be enough. But, they don’t know that either. My sense is that they just believe that the package needs to be big enough to really have a chance to work.

If “The Plan” works will this be the end of the effort?

No, the effort will still be in its early stages. The financial system and its regulatory framework will have to be revamped. What this administration is doing is attempting to buy time by stopping the downward spiral of financial markets and financial institutions. It is not proposing a solution about how the system will move forward. That will be up to the next administration.

Nothing the Paulson/Bernanke team has done suggests how the financial system and its regulation should be re-structured. The Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout did not do it. Nothing that has taken place since that action has done it. This will be the job of the next administration.

And, Congress should remember this and not try and make all sorts of additions to “The Plan”.

In terms of the next administration, I believe that the two presidential candidates need to put their new programs and plans, like universal health care, on the back burner. I don’t believe that they will have much of a chance to put any of their promises or polices into place for three or four years. They are going to have to create the brave new world and get things back into order before anything else can be put into place. Thus, the candidates need to put their campaign promises into their back pocket for another time. I don’t think that it really helps the situation to talk much about them.

The presidential candidates need to see what the current administration puts into place and then needs to try and build on this to construct a plan to get financial institutions and markets back on their feet, to revamp the regulatory system, and to devise an economic policy that is both realistic and builds confidence, nationally and internationally. This is what the candidates are going to have to sell…first to the people of the United States and then to the Congress of the United States and then to the rest of the world.
The Paulson/Bernanke plan has to have a chance to work. It is not going to help right now to have the candidates confuse the issue with second guessing and petty attacks. This is going to be a fine line to walk, but the nation needs to pull together right now to stop the downward spiral.

Just one other point on the activities of this last week: it was necessary to get the President out in front of the cameras and speak about the financial chaos to the world. For too long in the current financial meltdown the President’s absence has been noticeable. Now, the whole world has seen the President speak out. Unfortunately for him, the puppet strings were quite obvious and one could see Hank Paulson’s lips move as the President attempted to mouth the words that were being spoken. One only has to wonder how much of his administration was conducted in this way only with someone named Dick Chaney controlling the strings and mouthing the words.

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