Posts Tagged ‘real estate bubble’

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson: White Queen Redux

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is going to put capital in the banks.  In this concept, he shares a rich tradition with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  (He leaves free presents, theoretically only to the relatively good, but realistically rather more arbitrarily with a bias toward the privileged, and lastly and most importantly– it’s all a fantasy.)

It’s true that Secretary Paulson may be able to improve bank capital, in the sense of benefiting the entries on the bank’s balance sheet, but not in the sense of giving a productive capability that didn’t exist elsewhere and now has come into being out of nothing. What Paulson can give is only a representation of real capital.

The Department of the Treasury can “inject capital” (Paulson’s words from his statement of October 8, 2008), in the same way that the Federal Reserve can increase the money supply, but can’t increase (or even maintain) the purchasing power of the new money at the same time.

There are some who’d argue that the balance sheets that Secretary Paulson can manipulate do matter– that “injecting” “capital” (it’s hard to choose which of the prior sets of quotation marks to invest with the most sneering invective; please feel free to curl your lip at both), into banks will buy time until the economy rebalances.

This can only have the appearance of truth when the economy isn’t overextended (i.e., it only works when it doesn’t matter).  The markets are “frightened” and there’s a “liquidity freeze” because of the recognition that real capital has been overextended and wasted.

The markets recognize that the only thing to do is sort through the rubble looking for salvage– that when you’re overextended you have to find a way to prioritize– while Paulson and the government are convinced that they can spin the rubble in really fast circles and make it look like something shiny.

We mistake paper money for real purchasing power and real savings, when in fact it can only potentially represent these things, and that dependent entirely on government trustworthiness.  We mistake the bank balance sheet capital (now demonstrating how real it really wasn’t with the astounding speed with which it can disappear) for actual resources and capacity to produce– again it’s only a representation (and again an unstable one, since it’s considered capable of whimsical “expansion” to “stimulate the economy”).

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has asked for patience.  He wants us to trust government, and share his confidence (his favorite word as things fall apart) that strength will be restored to the American economy.

Secretary Paulson doesn’t deserve our trust and belief; the government doesn’t deserve our trust and belief, and it’s not because they’ve asked for this all along and failed all along– it’s because they’re lost now, and can’t possibly find their way in the future since their compasses are backwards.

It’s not good for Americans to have confidence in something that’s doomed to fail– it’s better to question folly than to have confidence in it.  If for example, confidence in mortgage finance and real estate value was yet ongoing today in a continuation of yesterday’s real estate bubble, then the confidence would be moving us from stunningly stupid waste of capital and opportunity, to supersaturated thermonuclear stunningly stupid waste of capital and opportunity.  Economic confidence is very far from deserving the knighthood that government perpetually offers it.

While it’s true that economic and political systems require trust, that only works when they also require trustworthiness.  It’s not a duty for Americans to unquestioningly accept government foolishness and waste, no matter how insistently the government tells us that questions are destabilizing.  The reason our system can fall apart from too much questioning is not because it’s built on trust (which we might have a duty to maintain); it’s because it’s built on leverage (which we do not).

Now I’ll give you something to believe.  [the Queen remarked]  I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.’  `I can’t believe that!‘ said Alice. `Can’t you?’ the Queen said in a pitying tone.  `Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.’  Alice laughed.  `There’s no use trying,’ she said `one can’t believe impossible things.’  `I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen.  `When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’   (Lewis Carroll)By Les LafaveAbolish The Federal Reserve –