Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson’s decision to abandon plans to buy troubled bank assets shows that he has come to two conclusions about what was once the chief focus of the government’s $700-billion bailout:
The first is that it wouldn’t work. The second is that the economists and financial experts who agitated to have capital injected directly into the banking system now appear to have been right all along.
Paulson announced Wednesday that the federal government would formally abandon plans to buy troubled mortgage-backed securities from banks and other big investors to instead focus its efforts on thawing credit markets.
The shift, however, had been in place since last month. A week after the package was passed by Congress on Oct. 3, Paulson began signaling that the thrust had changed and that much of the $700 billion instead would go toward providing capital to banks by investing in their preferred shares.
That action might be compared to replacing a gravely ill patient’s slow intravenous drip with a shot of adrenaline into the heart. The stock market rallied, and over the next few weeks the capital injections intensified and talk of the asset purchases ebbed.
Although Treasury’s change of course has aligned the U.S. more closely with Britain and continental Europe, where direct recapitalization of banks has become the standard response to the financial crisis, it has raised new doubts about the U.S. bailout.
These include concerns about Paulson’s inconsistent direction. The Treasury secretary originally presented the plan to buy toxic mortgage-based investments under the Troubled Asset Relief Program as the only conceivable solution to bank failures, then vehemently resisted congressional attempts at modification.
“This was a major piece of legislation,” observed Campbell R. Harvey, professor of international business at Duke University. “TARP was what people were voting on, and now he announces that TARP is not going to be TARP.”
Another concern is that Paulson and Congress are failing to specifically define the purpose of TARP. Originally the program was aimed at troubled banks, particularly those whose failure might undermine the domestic or global financial systems.
On Wednesday, however, Paulson said the remaining TARP funds would be directed at “both banks and non-banks” with troubled holdings; at non-bank credit markets that have stagnated, such as those for credit card receivables, auto loans and student loans; and at the housing market to stem the risk of foreclosure. These categories represent a dramatic expansion, and arguably a dilution, of the program.
Well, how nice this change seems to be a weekly thing…the money will go where the corporations want it to go. What of oversight? There is NO oversight! Paulson does what Paulson wants and NO ONE is questioning his decisions. Where were the critics in the run to the bill. The bill that just had to be passed was to stop the economy from tanking….and the economy tanked….someone ask these people why we should trust them to get it right this time.