Nobel Laureate Stiglitz: The Administration's Ersatz Capitalism

Includes: DIA, QQQ, SPY
by: Ron Haruni

Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz writes in The New York Times that Treasury Geithner’s $500 billion or more proposal to fix America’s ailing banks, described by some in the financial markets as a win-win-win situation, it’s actually a win-win-lose proposal: the banks win, investors win — and taxpayers lose.

The Treasury, argues the professor of economics at Columbia Univesity - hopes to get us out of the mess by replicating the flawed system that the private sector used to bring the world crashing down, with a proposal that has overleveraging in the public sector, excessive complexity, poor incentives and a lack of transparency.

In theory, the administration’s plan, continues Mr. Stiglitz, is based on letting the market determine the prices of the banks’ “toxic assets” — including outstanding house loans and securities based on those loans. The reality, though, is that the market will not be pricing the toxic assets themselves, but options on those assets.

Mr. Stiglitz uses the example of an asset that has a 50-50 chance of being worth either zero or $200 in a year’s time. The average “value” of the asset is $100. Ignoring interest, this is what the asset would sell for in a competitive market. It is what the asset is “worth.” Under the plan by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the government would provide about 92% of the money to buy the asset but would stand to receive only 50% of any gains, and would absorb almost all of the losses, Mr. Stiglitz says. Some partnership!

What the Obama administration is doing is far worse than nationalization: it is ersatz capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses. It is a “partnership” in which one partner robs the other. And such partnerships — with the private sector in control — have perverse incentives, worse even than the ones that got us into the mess.

So what is the appeal of a proposal like this? Perhaps it’s the kind of Rube Goldberg device that Wall Street loves — clever, complex and nontransparent, allowing huge transfers of wealth to the financial markets. It has allowed the administration to avoid going back to Congress to ask for the money needed to fix our banks, and it provided a way to avoid nationalization.

Essentially Stiglitz’s point is that Treasury Geithner, Wall Street’s new main operative after Paulson, and the administration itself for that matter want to bribe investors to buy up “toxic (junk, trash) assets” and guarantee their losses with taxpayer money. A calculative move since it would facilitate a vast and unprecedented transfer of wealth from the great majority of taxpayers (the working class) to the banks, bondholders and the wealthy.

After Paul Krugman, Prof. Stiglitz is the second Nobel prize-winning economists to rightly criticize the administration’s plan for what it is. A massive, disguised theft.