Tag Archives: economic crisis

Nationalization: Cutting Losses and Creating Solutions

A debate rages on different plains about rescue of the banking industry and real estate market.  That is a clean way of putting it.  Not the debate–the debate is pretty clean.  But the notion that it is just the banks and homeowners who are at risk is pretty sanitary. 

Without banks there is no substantial financing of business activity.  We could reinvent financing, especially since the Internet was not around when the current banking system was begun, but it would take years to reach anything like national capacity.  In the meantime, now, falling business activity continues a downward spiral of unemployment, business failures, investment losses, and postponed planning and recovery.

With no finance and no confidence, there can be no real estate market.  There is only deterioration in values and losses in investment.  Forward business activity and healthy market forces require confidence in the future. 

Hence, the nationalization debate.

If the government takes over weak segments of the banking system, it can, at a cost, make them stable institutions of the recovery economy.  They can loan money without fear of failing for lack of sufficient loan reserves.  Similarly, the government could buy up and hold real property at discounted prices throughout the United States.  This would eliminate the concern that numerous properties sit in default with no payments made on the mortgages and with no interested buyers.  The government is used to owning land in America–it owns much of what is not developed or used.  Add to that a fraction of the housing stock, to be resold later, and you have a more stable marketplace for the remaining property.  (You would have to create a formula such as automatic purchase of all homes in foreclosure at a set percentage discount for a six month period).

Why not nationalize one or both fractions of the marketplace?  Certainly this is not an efficient method of setting prices and running financial and real estate markets.  It would be a really bad idea if you had a functioning marketplace because like the communist economies, it would lead to poor allocation of resources, lack of private incentive and declining productivity.  But, should we be holding out for efficiency, when the very functioning of the system is so broken down?

It must be particularly hard for the Obama administration to look towards nationalization as an option.  The first African American president is hardly a financial liberal or political radical.  He taught at the University of Chicago, a free-market powerhouse.  He was not, so far as I know, part of the “Chicago School” of conservative economics, but neither was he ever noted as a liberal economic standout.  His centrist, free market, choices for Treasury department and economic advisors confirm this.  

What’s the solution?  How about giving a group of responsible Republicans the challenge of crafting and selling the temporary-nationalization plan?  Cherry-pick them in advance so they are willing, at least, to do what is needed.  Despite all our anti-politician rhetoric, there are many among them who are in an of themselves, profiles in courage. 

Rather than indulging in battle over whose party it is, and what it stands for, why not take on the problems of the day and solve some?  

We are clearly at a point of great uncertainty.  The recovery may come as the bottom of the market is reached according to market forces or it may not.  The stimulus spending and tax cuts may aid the recovery or they may not.  But the hole in the plan needs to be repaired, one way or another.

There is a significant, whether that’s one percent or more, risk of more devastation to business activity and investment value.  At some point, rather than aiming for a refined solution, you need to aim to protect yourself from the risk of catastrophe.  Protection from disaster is different than planning for optimal results.  We should, at least someone should, be advancing ideas on that level.

When the countries of the former Soviet Union endured its collapse and economic crisis in the 1990s, industrial production, standards of living, and life expectancy declined deeply.  Painful as it was, within a few years, conditions improved.  We might learn from these experiences as well as from other nations that have had to nationalize collapsing industries, and our own savings and loan crisis in the 1980s.  In each of these cases privatization was eventually successful, so we should not worry about a slippery slope towards socialism or the communist domino effect.  The real risk in those directions comes only if the United States is unable to pull itself up by its bootstraps and demonstrate a viable system.

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Big Spender or Economic Reformer?

Originally published on March 5, 2009 at care2.com

 

In the midst of this economic downturn, the president has proposed a budget that gives further definition to his vision for American progress.  In some ways it may not be the best time to propose something new, as many people, shocked by financial insecurity and instability, investment and pension losses, and business and job distress feel the need to hunker down and survive, rather than experiment and take risks.

On the other hand, the government is stirred to take significant steps to repair a major crisis, and while thinking big, there is opportunity to take bold action.  That, I think, can be said of President Obama’s political vision.  The question is, what kind of action is it?

Probably the most sensitive issue at the present time, is the issue of government spending.  Americans are mistrustful of congress’ ability to spend responsibly and are deeply concerned with the deficit.  How should Obama’s grand, if evolving, plan be looked at from this perspective? 

Is he the big-spending liberal, willing to meet any “progressive” goal with tax-payer dollars, giving only secondary consideration to the harm to the economy of tax increases, redistribution of wealth, and deficit spending? 

If we turn to conservatives for an answer, we hear the harsh critique of a socialist redistribution of wealth.

Even moderates, such as David Brooks, find the size and target of the fiscal stimulus legislation and budget proposal too big and too progressive, while expressly embracing parts of the program such as education.

If we ask liberals, they may very well see an increase in public spending on education, health care, and alternative energy that bespeaks progressive values, liberal causes and Democratic agenda.

I disagree.  Mr. Obama is a financial reformer, using public funds as necessary to do what government truly needs to do, but intent on cutting waste, corruption, and mismanagement out of the workings of government?

The main thrust of the vision is still investment in parts of the economy that need repair:  a struggling education system that is needed to produce a work force on which our prosperity will be based; an inefficient health care system that uses too much of our national budget, is a drag on our businesses large and small (unless like Walmart did they force these costs on private individuals and on state tax-payers when private citizens use public resources) and is too expensive for too many to afford; and energy that is imported at great cost to our economy and national security.  These are issues of fundamental importance to our economic prosperity, our business climate, our capitalist system.

Couldn’t we call what Obama is doing long-range economic reform? 

It might even make a good Republican agenda, as they are rooting around for one. 

Let us not quarrel with the targets of public spending as they are, in fact, economically productive and necessary.  Let us not quarrel with the amount of funds because they are realistic and necessary.  Let us organize and fight for the right use of these funds so that every dollar engenders in our children the philanthropic, creative, entrepreneurial and leadership qualities of business and civic leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet and Colin Powell. Let’s make sure our businesses and citizens can afford economical health care benefits, and our citizens receive worthy care, and let us, using the scientific and entrepreneurial genius among us, develop alternative energy or at least efficient energy that is home grown, as clean as is reasonably possible, and marketable to the world.

Is that liberal?  Really?