Henry Paulson is Wrong

The decisions that Congress must make now will affect not only the US economy's short-term prospects, but will shape the type of capitalism that we will have for the next 50 years. For anyone who believes in free markets, the most serious risk of the current situation is that the interest of a few financiers will undermine the capitalist system’s fundamental workings.

CHICAGO – When a profitable company is hit by a very large liability, the solution is not to have the government buy its assets at inflated prices.  The solution, instead, is protection under bankruptcy law, which in the United States means Chapter 11.

Under Chapter 11, companies with a solid underlying business generally swap debt for equity.  Old equity holders are wiped out and old debt claims are transformed into equity claims in the new entity which continues operating with a new capital structure. Alternatively, the debt-holders can agree to reduce the face value of debt, in exchange for some warrants. So why not use this well-established approach to solve the financial sector’s current problems?

The obvious answer is that we do not have time; Chapter 11 procedures are generally long and complex, and the current crisis has reached a point where time is of the essence. But we are in extraordinary times, and the government has taken and is prepared to take unprecedented measures. As if rescuing the big insurer AIG and prohibiting all short selling of financial stocks was not enough, now US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson proposes buying up (with taxpayers’ money) the distressed assets of the financial sector. But at what price?

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/tglkMoq;
  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now