Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Paulson plan throws oil on fire

By Hossein Askari and Noureddine Krichene

With the creation of the so called Mortgage and Financial Institutions Trust (MFI), the unfolding financial crisis, considered by many to be the worst in over 60 years, has become ever-more dangerous.

While such an institution has not existed in any country, the MFI could prove to be disastrous for US public finance, economic growth, the dollar, relations with major foreign holders of dollars, the global financial system, and could ignite the worst inflation in the economic history of the United States and reverse globalization to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The initial cost of the MFI, put at US$700 billion, could easily
escalate to trillions of dollars. At the same time, the Congressional Budget Office had previously projected a record fiscal deficit of US$500 billion for 2009. The MFI will further blow up the deficit to an unprecedented level, exceeding US$1.4 trillion. US debt, jumping with the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to 86% of GDP, has moved to an unsustainable level.

The financing of previous large fiscal deficits under the George W Bush Administration has already caused external deficits (current account) to widen to 5-7% of GDP, turned national savings negative, sent the dollar plummeting, and ignited rapid inflation, particularly in food, energy, and housing prices. Further financing of extraordinary large fiscal deficits, as required by the MFI, can only disrupt economic stability both in the US and world-wide. It will only further undermine the dollar, exacerbate widening external deficits, soaring energy and food prices, and rising unemployment.

Nonetheless, the main architects of the MFI, Messrs Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary and Federal Reserve chairman respectively, are determined to protect Wall Street. They have decidedly transformed the US budget and the US central bank into vehicles that only care for the welfare of Wall Street and divert public resources to bankers, under the guise of protecting the economy and averting systemic risk.

Albeit evidence of a systemic risk has not been established, vast public resources have so far been devoted to bailouts at the expense of growth-generating spending. The Fed has been pouring billions of dollars into financial institutions, buying worthless paper, and incurring huge losses. To quote Paulson "I am convinced that this bold approach [that is creation of the MFI] will cost American families far less than the alternative - a continuing series of financial-institution failures and frozen credit markets unable to fund economic expansion."

Contrary to Paulson’s claim, domestic credit is still expanding at a fast rate, at 9% per year as of July 2008, and the notion of frozen markets cannot be supported by Fed’s published monetary data. Banks have excess liquidity and are still extending loans to safe customers. Certainly they are no longer in the mood of reigniting a new speculative euphoria by lending to speculator and impaired credit.

And contrary to Paulson’s belief, the MFI will in the end cost American families more than other alternatives. As Philip Stephens from the Financial Times put it, it is horrifying to think that the huge liabilities of failing institutions have now been loaded on to the backs of taxpayers: a case, as far as speculators are concerned, of heads, we win, tails you lose.

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