I'll concede we are in economic trouble. But, I'm against "the bailout" that failed in the House Monday, and which apparently will be tried again in the Senate Wednesday, purely on ideological grounds that most people probably don't agree with: I believe that: a.) the bill causes the government to intrude into financial markets; b.) government intrusion into financial markets necessarily infringes upon personal liberty; and c.) as a rule, the government should not take actions which infringe upon personal liberty.
I have a number of exceptions to (c), including exchanging minimal/reasonable amounts of personal liberty for security and order (military, police), addressing externalities, and some other areas, but the scope of this bailout pretty much automatically eliminates it from this list of exclusions.
And every time I hear a journalist, pundit, or politician explain that "the government has to do something", I go a little crazy inside. Not only does the government not need to do something, to fully respect our liberty, they ideally should do nothing.
But, I've come to realize over the last week that the above position makes me notably "out of the mainstream" so I'll try to put aside that ideology and share some thoughts on the bailout that have appeal to a broader ideological spectrum.
First - just how much is $750 billion dollars?
Well, it would be about $2,500 per American. Or put another way, a stack of 232 dollar bills fits inside one inch. A stack of $750,000,000,000 would be about 50,900 miles tall. From the center of the earth, it would stack more than 1/5th of the way to the center of the moon. That's. a. lot. of. money.
Now, as a number of conservative (but certainly not uber-libertarian) folks who are favoring the bill are pointing out, the longer term cost of this bill is not that $750 billion number. I think most of the people calling their congressmen to urge them to vote against this bill misunderstand this, so it's fairly important. Unlike most government spending, the government gets an asset in return for what it "spends" on this program.
If you go and buy $100 of stock, you don't count yourself $100 "poorer." You've just transfered $100 of value from cash to stock. The stock could appreciate (or decline) in value, but down the line you will likely be able to sell the stock to get money again. It's a very similar thing going on with the mortgage backed securities Paulson wants to buy up.
Where those making the above distinction seem to veer off the path though is in the assertion they usually further make that the government would be making a "good deal" in buying these securities. These arguers seem to be utterly certain that these securities are currently under-valued by the market. If they believe this, I'd encourage them to go put their money where their mouth is, instead of the government's (and by "government's,", I mean "taxpayer's," and by "taxpayer's," I mean "mine"). The market can and does, at times, under-value things. But there is NO guarantee it is undervaluing these now.
I would draw a distinction that, with stocks for companies, you can make a reasonable assumption that over the long run, these will, on the whole, improve in value because businesses can create value through things like increased productivity. A mortgage backed security can't do anything like that. It is my position that the default position one should take for these later types of assets needs to be that the market is pricing them accurately.
Furthermore, the market actually does not seem to be able to price these mortgage backed securities at all - because they aren't being bought and sold, so there is no data about prices. The whole rationale behind the plan seems to be partly just to come up with a price to get them moving.
I have no faith that the government will come up with a price that will allow the government to see these increase in value over time. If the government offers such a price, what's the incentive of a firm to sell them? Even at "market price" there is no incentive to sell to the government, because the bill would attach additional regulations to companies that participate. That means the government will have to buy these at higher than market value to make up for the cost of regulation to the seller.
Another objection I have to the bill is that at least earlier versions included provisions that if the government does make money off these securities, some sizable chunk (say 20%) of those profits are going to go to (far left) politically charged groups like ACORN .
So, this all basically works like this: The government takes $2,500 of your money. They invest it in mortgage backed securities. Companies they sell said securities to the government have to live with new special regulations. By the nature of how they'd have to price them so firms would sell the securities to the government, the government probably won't make a profit on these securities. But, if they do, you, the tax payer, from whom the government took $2,500 for this investment, won't see a full fifth of those profits, as they get redirected to special interests. Excellent, huh?
That's why this bail out need to continue to be killed. The market will take heavy losses. That's part of the free market system. It's how the market corrects for things that were priced too highly. The market will be able to figure out a real price for these mortgage backed securities though, and eventually things will head back to normal. Give the market time, don't pass hasty big-government legislation.