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The Bailout Deal
House leaders Reid and Boehner respond to reporters' questions on the financial crisis. (AP)

Congressional leaders Harry Reid and John Boehner respond to reporters' questions about the financial crisis. (AP)

Days of decision for the U.S. Congress. The House today. The Senate soon. In the balance, the U.S. economy: accountability for its past, and the shape of its future.

On Capitol Hill, shouting and table thumping. “Financial crimes have been committed,” roared one Democrat. “Now Congress is being asked to bail out the culprits.”

We’re snuffing out the free-market system, warned a Republican.

And the economy teeters and waits. In the debris and details and debate, a new era is taking shape. This may be about the American Way of Capitalism.

This hour, On Point: What emerges from the great financial meltdown of 2008.

You can join the conversation. What do you want to emerge from this meltdown and response? What’s the change we need from Washington? From Wall Street?

Guests:

Sudeep Reddy, reporter for The Wall Street Journal and a lead writer for WSJ.com’s Real Time Economics blog. He’s been watching the negotiations over the bailout package closely.

Gretchen Morgenson, business columnist for The New York Times.

Jeffrey Frankel, professor of capital formation and growth at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He directs the Program in International Finance and Macroeconomics at the National Bureau of Economic Research and was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton. He’s the author of “American Economic Policy in the 1990s.”

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  • Diego Babrerena

    The solution to the current Financial and the Mortgage crisis is having the Federal Bank lend directly to the borrower. Primarily by letting people refinance their loan with the Federal Bank. By refinancing the loans, the banks will get their money back, and the borrower will be out of the risk of foreclosure.

    1. There is not bailout; neither for the borrower, nor for the banks.
    2. There is no cost for anyone (The Federal Bank by lending directly gets a good spread of at least 2%. The Federal Reserve can borrow for less than 4% and can lend at a flat 6%. The Revenues can be used to generate more loans like any other bank).
    4. It is simple
    5. It is transparent
    6. The Government will help the borrower directly.
    7. The Government will help the banks indirectly.
    8. It can also be extended to student loans (a loan to every American Citizen that has been accepted to any accredited college. Similar to what is done now but without the big payouts for the intermediaries, aka Salliemae, Nelnet, etc).
    9. It can also be extended to small business loans (loan will need to be viable).
    10. It can also be extended to car loans (cars with 30 mpg EPA minimum).

    http://www.PlanNewAmerica.org

  • Doug

    It is interesting that we got another bail out plan passed under the radar for the auto industry. How come Nancy Pelosi and Barack O. did not push to have the same “guiding principles” – limit exec pay, ownership, etc, etc. Looks like we didn’t do what Pelosi called “buy in”. Where is Obama when I need him to show some leadership – “all bail outs are created equal”

  • Pearl

    What about the many billions dollars of bonuses that the executives and managers of all these big investment banks pocketed in previous years, rewarding themselves for doing a terrible job? Those bonuses should be seized and used to pay for part of these bail out.

  • Denis Johansen

    Is it true that Sweden used a very similar program as the one proposed by congress to resolve their financial crisis in the late 90s? If I heard the report correctly (I believe on NPR) Sweden’s economic situation was much worse than we are currently facing – higher unemployment, larger % of bank failures, etc.

    Are there lessons for the U.S. economy in examples like Sweden?

    Why would we not hear more of these examples in a positive light to help the U.S. citizens understand why this is not a giveaway of their tax dollars? Also

  • Alex

    In Sweden the taxpayer gets meaningful services from the government, most importantly health care and other things. So I would imagine the taxpayer does not feel betrayed or defrauded in the same way when it is time to help the private sector. I don’t think the comparison is a good one at least in that respect.

  • Steve

    Please ask your guests if there should be a provision in the “bailout” legislation that would permit “ordinary” taxpayers to purchase stock, at a discount, in the companies which are being bailed out.

  • Peter Nelson

    The solution to the current Financial and the Mortgage crisis is having the Federal Bank lend directly to the borrower. Primarily by letting people refinance their loan with the Federal Bank. By refinancing the loans, the banks will get their money back, and the borrower will be out of the risk of foreclosure.

    What “Federal Bank”? The Federal Reserve is not a Savings and Loan. It doesn’t have the staff or skill to assess properties, write mortgages, service loans, maintain escrows, foreclose on and maintan/sell properties that are in default, etc, etc, etc.

    Furthermore, the basic problem is that millions or people are in hock for mortgages they can’t afford. Just refinancing it, even at a slightly lower interst rate, isn’t going to make it affordable, especially if the person defaulted because they lost their job or had some other personal financial calamity.

    And many of these mortgages are way underwater. Bloomberg reported last week that house prices in California have fallen by an astonishing 41%! How many people will even WANT to refinance, say, a $300K mortgage on a property that might be worth less than $200K?

  • RUTH

    Please explain why we are not letting banks with cash buy out the troubled ones. They seem to be doing a fine job and I am sure they are buying at a good price. We are being told that there is no way to value the assets of the banks in trouble, but the buying banks do not seem to have a problem.

    Also, if Buffett can get such a magnificent deal with five billion, it would seem to me the tax payers should get the best deal of all, not the worst.

    Thank you,

  • Peter Nelson

    It is interesting that we got another bail out plan passed under the radar for the auto industry. How come Nancy Pelosi and Barack O. did not push to have the same “guiding principles” – limit exec pay, ownership, etc, etc. Looks like we didn’t do what Pelosi called “buy in”. Where is Obama when I need him to show some leadership – “all bail outs are created equal”

    Both McCain and Obama supported an auto-industry bailout for the simple reason the Michigan is a swing state. I think we’ve established that that the core “guiding principle” of both of these politicians is “get me elected”.

    Also once again the press is playing handmaiden to these outrages, as they did leading up to the Iraq War, and as they did leading up to this financial meltdown, but under-reporting critical information. Those of us who follow things closely weren’t fooled by any of this, but I’ll bet the Average American sipping his coffee this morning is unaware that he’s also being put on the hook for bailing out incompetent Detroit fat cats.

  • Alex

    As a former bankruptcy paralegal, I have seen too many people with conventional mortgages and downpayments heading to the bankruptcy court because of illness or sudden unemplyment. Their only resort for decades has been (and still is) to the bankruptcy attorney. Ironically, the new species of borrower, a subprime one (no downpayment, low initial payments) is causing the collective outcry for help. And why? Because their interest rates are resetting. I am beside myself!

    I believe that no one who did not invest at least 10% upfront deserves any help, and only if their circumstances have changed since incurring the debt (illness, loss of jobs and the like).

  • David Boundy

    How does the “insurance” component work -

    1. Who is insuring whom against what? Who holds the risk? (In the private sector, “insurance” models don’t work to cover a risk that is already mature – the insured and insurer can’t come to an agreement on price)

    2. Who’s paying the premium? Is it coming out of the very liquidity that the program is intended to create?

    3. What’s being done to reduce moral hazard? We got into this mess because of the moral hazard created by FannieMae/FreddieMac insurance, so that all of the downside risk was held by Fannie/Freddie, and all the upside held by the lender, and the moral hazard regulations (that is, Fannie/Freddie’s debt guideline limits) were lifted, so that lenders took irrational risks. What is being done to make sure that an “insurance” model doesn’t create new incentives to take irrational risks?

  • Cord Ohlenbusch

    One of the problems seems to be the variable interest rate that is common these day. I wonder why the banks, instead of raising the monthly payment, keep the amount of the payment the same, and simply stretch out the mortgage duration. So every month you pay a larger amount of interest and less of the principal. That way the mortgagee does not suddenly find that he can not afford the house anymore.

  • RUTH

    Reregulation should not be put off till later. If Congress has to sign and vote, let them insert a line creating regulations that have been so easily and carelessly removed. Just pick up the pen.

    Let us not give in to intimidation. That is what happened with the patriot act and look where we are now.

    If Congress is so anxious to go home to campaign, go home before signing and explain first. The taxpayers are watching.

  • Peter Nelson

    Please explain why we are not letting banks with cash buy out the troubled ones.

    What are you talking about?!

    They’re buying them up left and right! Citi/Wachovia, JPMorgan/WAMU. BofA/Countrywide, BofA/Merrill, etc, etc. What do you mean we’re not “letting them”?

    And actually this is very risky because we’re creating more institutions that are “too big to fail”.

  • Ken

    If a company declares bankruptcy after receiving bailout money, what happens? Did the bailout money do any good? who keeps the bailout money?

  • M-L Grimaldi-Marvel

    I just went on the air and said that this bailout amounts to blackmail: “Do something fast now or everything collapses”
    I am so outraged, this is socialism for the benefit of the wealthy.
    Two good aticles to read:
    On alternet.org: “The Fiscally Insane Bailout”:
    http://www.alternet.org/workplace/100700/the_fiscally_insane_bailout_bill_might_not_pass_–_here%27s_5_reasons_it_shouldn%27t/?page=entire

    And on the NYTimes sept 22:
    “Stopping a Financial Crisis,The Swedish Way:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/23/business/worldbusiness/23krona.html?em22

  • Peter Nelson

    I believe that no one who did not invest at least 10% upfront deserves any help, and only if their circumstances have changed since incurring the debt (illness, loss of jobs and the like).

    When we bought our first house year ago, you were expected to make a 20% down payment but you could go down to 10% if you paid a hefty PMI.

    On Friday, driving to work, I heard an ad on a Boston radio station for 5% down-payment mortgages! I can’t BELIEVE anyone is still writing these! And who on earth in the secondary market is actually buying them?

    Why hasn’t the government totally banned mortgages with less than a 20% down payment?

  • Bob

    Hi,

    So, if I understand correctly, the logic is: the economy tanks, average people’s 401ks disappear, taxpayers have to help out. Otherwise, the average guy sinks – but the fat cats just sail along in their yachts! Is this the basis of the bail-out? Is this the ownership economy that Bush and alike have trumpeted out loud for years? And by the way, no money will be left to help the taxpayers with their petty problems like health care costs, gas costs, education, and so on and so on… Disgusting!

    Bob

  • http://TommyeKMayer.com Tommye Mayer

    Tom,

    What if the sky isn’t falling. What if the purpose of Bush’s speech last Tuesday (I think Tuesday) was to instill fear in the American public much as his rants against Saddam Hussein/Iraq were to marshall the country to action out of fear.

    What if this $700 billion rich folk bailout is a last ditch effort to pay off his top half of 1% friends.

    I did time in financial services–survived Black Monday AND Tuesday. The sky ISN’T falling. Wall Street DOESN’T need bailing out.

    Stop beating the Bush drum. TYhis show is irresponsible.

  • Rob

    Along the lines of government-assisted refinancing for home-owners, why can’t the government use the $700 billion it is now considering pumping into various levels of securities (for multiple layers of the same initial bad debt, as I understand it) and use that to pay off the principle for all mortgages? That would inject the necessary capital into the markets, freeing up credit. Fannie Mae could then take over responsibility for these mortgages, charging the 6% fixed interest rate that the initial commenter suggests. Yes, all that interest that lenders were expecting to recoup would be lost, but that would seem an acceptable penalty (and one that is consistent with market risks and rewards) that the financial system could handle. And Fannie Mae has (or could be given) the necessary resources to handle however many additional mortgages the government would take on.

    I think the central virtue of this plan is that it addresses one of the major initial problems: the floating interest rates that are causing many of the defaults. Yes, the issue of overpriced homes remains, but I don’t see anything that can really be done about that in the short term. Why hasn’t this solution even been discussed by policy makers?

  • Bob Bois

    Ralph Nader predicted this situation 8 years ago.
    Anyone who expects the Dems or the GOP to have the consumer’s best interests at heart is just not paying attention to the obvious realities: the corporations own both of these parties.
    How come the media hasn’t given time to Nader? Because they’re also corporate entities.
    No one is asking the obvious question: given the size of the US economy, only 700 billion dollars stands between success and failure?
    This is further evidence that our leaders (political and commercial) think we are too stupid to do anything. Let’s disappoint them this election and show both parties how much we want them gone…. vote for a third party candidate.

  • Troy

    You don’t understand the Federal Reserve is the banking system. The Federal Reserve does not have any money. The Federal Reserve is bankrupt.

  • Bob

    Something is not adding up help please.

    Home forclosure data online states that 1.5 to 2.1 million homes are in or will be forclosed and the avarage home loan is under in 250,000 dollars. Lets double both factors to remove doubt. 4 miilion homes times 500,000 equals 200 billion. Why is the bail out 700 billion.

  • Troy

    What is the name of the company that is getting the 700B? The Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve is a PRIVIT Company.

  • Peter Nelson

    And by the way, no money will be left to help the taxpayers with their petty problems like health care costs, gas costs, education, and so on and so on… Disgusting!

    If people really thought it was disgusting they wouldn’t keep electing the same clowns. The vast, overwhelming majority of incumbents get reelected. Many House seats are not even contested in many election years (recently we had an election in Massachusetts where HALF our House seats had no serious opposition)!

    Right now the average American can tell you more about their favorite sports team’s standing, how many games they have to win to get into the playoffs, the QB-rating or average yard-per-carry of their favorite football players, the ERA or batting average of their favorite baseball players, etc, than they can tell you about the federal budget or their elected officials’ voting records.

    HL Mencken said that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard”. The economic pain Americans are experiencing now is nothing more than they deserve.

  • Peter Nelson

    Home forclosure data online states that 1.5 to 2.1 million homes are in or will be forclosed and the avarage home loan is under in 250,000 dollars. Lets double both factors to remove doubt. 4 miilion homes times 500,000 equals 200 billion. Why is the bail out 700 billion.

    Because your math is wrong. 4 million x 500,000 is 2 trillion.

    Last week someone else made a posting like this. Is this maybe a hint of why Americans take out mortgages they can’t afford? “Oh look dear, a 10,000 square-foot estate with carriage house and servant’s quarters, and according MY calculations it can be ours for $439 a month!”

  • AV

    Once again, the Democrats cave in, just like they did with the Iraq war. It has been proven time and over again that there’s little difference between the two parties – tweedledum and tweedledee – and both are interested in bailing out their rich friends to the detriment and on the backs of not-so-well-off.

    Mr. Ashbrook, I’ve sent you and NPR a few emails requesting you to have Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney on your show so that American voters can hear some different voices, but it seems that NPR has imposed a blackout on third-party candidates on the left, though Bob Barr still made an appearance because he is likely to help the Democrats by taking votes away from McCain. Looks like there’s not much integrity left anywhere among the American people and institutions. Is this the beginning of the end, just like another empire started to collapse in 476 AD?

  • Peter Nelson

    Once again, the Democrats cave in, just like they did with the Iraq war. It has been proven time and over again that there’s little difference between the two parties – tweedledum and tweedledee – and both are interested in bailing out their rich friends to the detriment and on the backs of not-so-well-off.

    If your theory is true then how does it explain why most of the opposition to this bail-out is coming from the GOP? I though they had even MORE rich fat cat friends.

  • Alex

    I think the House Republicans are about as scared right now politically as Congressional Democrats were in 2002 when months before the elections the Administration started beating the drums for war. Dems blinked back then afraid of political consequences. It is barely a month before the elections for the entire House. Not every seat is competitive there, of course, but it seems that they are opposing the bailout because they are afraid of paying the immediate politcal price.

    The situation is somewhat different in the Senate because not the entire Senate is up for reelection this November.

  • Peter Nelson

    The defeat of the bailout bill in the House today must be regarded as a victory for democracy. Public sentiment was very strongly opposed to it. I heard one congressman last week saying that mail from his district was running “50-50″: He said half of his constituents were saying “no”, and the other half were saying, “Hell, no!”

    The Dow dropped over 700 points on the news but recovered a little bit as of this writing (2:45pm). There may eventually be some good buying opportunities in here for the brave. A month or so ago I bought lots of Bank of America in the mid 20′s and sold it last week for some fat profits in the mid-30′s. I was hoping a big drop in the Dow would give me another shot at some more but amazingly BAC is still almost 33 as of this writing! Other stocks that I follow have also dropped but not as much as I hoped.

  • AV

    If your theory is true then how does it explain why most of the opposition to this bail-out is coming from the GOP? I though they had even MORE rich fat cat friends.

    As far as I know, Bush, Paulson and Bernanke are still Republicans, unless they switched party affiliations recently. Do you know something that I don’t? Yes, there are some GOP members who are opposed to this handout, but there could be other factors, like them being up for re-election in November, or “free market” considerations, as well as the issue of moral hazard. BTW, the minority House leader, Rep. John A. Boehner (R), does support this handout.
    I don’t think the fact that the GOP is not united in its opposition to this handout, or that the opposition is coming from GOP, proves my assertion wrong – that there’s little difference between the two parties, or that the Democrats have failed miserably on the Iraq war and the impeachment issues, since gaining control of the Congress.

    YMMV, and that’s fine with me. We obviously, have different metrics of evaluation.

  • Peter Nelson

    Yes, there are some GOP members who are opposed to this handout, but there could be other factors, like them being up for re-election in November

    Over 2/3′s of the Republicans voted “no” and I applaud them for responding to their constituents instead of their big-money donors. It’s called the House of Representatives because the members are supposed to represent the votors in their districts.

    I think the Democrats have lots of splainin’ to do. 60% of them voted for the bailout but I’d be VERY surprised if more than a handful of them actually had a majority in their district who supported the bill. I don’t know yet how my Congresswoman, Tsongas, voted, but I advised her to vote ‘no’. We need a better plan than this bailout.

    The Dow closed down about 735 points, which, as I said above, may represent some good buying opportunities for the brave and the patient, since investors’ initial emotional reactions tend to be a bit overblown.

  • Alex

    How will this affect the municipal bond market? I have a muni fund that’s down 5% YTD. I have a hard time understanding why since municipalities are historically pretty safe borrowers.

  • AV

    Well Peter, both Tsongas and Capuano voted “yes” but I’m glad I called him and urged him to vote “no.”

  • Michael

    “How will this affect the municipal bond market? I have a muni fund that’s down 5% YTD. I have a hard time understanding why since municipalities are historically pretty safe borrowers.”

    Property taxes are a source of revenue that backs some municipal bonds. In the current environment, it’s no surprise that the market views these revenue sources as more risky than when the bonds were issued, thus the price should go down.

  • Alex

    I can’t believe these Republican cry babies. Here we are praising them for their courage in voting no. Meanwhile, they are quickly hedging their bets by saying that it was Nancy Pelosy’s speech that drove them to vote no. Which is it? Their courage or their petty reaction to Pelosy’s speech? I thought they would live up to what they did and tell it like it is: “we did not vote for the plan because it is snacks of socialism.” I have very little respect to both parties, in fact. Does anybody have political courage in this country?

  • Alex

    I meant to say “smacks” not “snacks.”

  • Morgan

    Hats off to the Replublicans for blocking this reckless bailout of reckless financiers.

    1) Tax payer bailout? No one’s taxes are going up. The Chinese are going to pony up the cash, or whatever is left on the table after the Fed is finished monetizing.

    2) Capitalism requires the risk of failure to work correctly. Let these institutions fail. If there’s a market for their services, new smarter firms will fill the void.

    3) Credit default swaps on treasuries haven been spiking as this bailout looms. Let’s not risk a downgrade of government debt.

  • AV

    Does anybody have political courage in this country?

    Ralph Nader.

    Though mention of his name causes a Pavlovian reflex of a hissy fit among most Democrats who have bought the MSM’s smear job of Nader. :)

  • jeff

    What about the many billions dollars of bonuses that the executives and managers of all these big investment banks pocketed in previous years, rewarding themselves for doing a terrible job? Those bonuses should be seized and used to pay for part of these bail out.
    Posted by Pearl, on September 29th, 2008 at 9:17 am EDT

    While I agree with the anger this kind of emotional response does not help the problem. I was feeling like this as well. I don’t know what should be done. Maybe Robert Reich is right money should be made available to get the banks to lend again, and more money should be made available for relief and unemployment benefits.
    The banks should eat the debt and try to sell the bad loans themselves. If need be the government could offer loans.

    One of the main players in AIG’s down fall was a small bank it owned that was dealing in these bad derivatives.
    The bonuses in this branch was up to 35% to 40% of the revenue. This has to stop.

    However asking them to give it back is not going to help. It wont do a thing.

    A lot of these people have lost millions and in some cases 100′s of millions, so these people are hurting and they should be.

  • HVH

    How about bringing back “ANTI-TRUST” regulations. Seems that it worked for decades keeping excessive accumulation of power and wealth in check….so few can remember the “good ol’ days” when competition was fostered through ‘regulation’ of the marketplace making it “competitive” for start-ups and up-starts alike…and my family payed 90% income taxes & somehow survived to pass on an estate of $$,$$$,$$$.

  • Don Plummer

    If the OnPoint team wants to go after one guy that can explain exactly how this financial debacle happened, first listen to Terri Gross’ show on April 3rd with Michael Greenberger and then put him on the show. He traces this back to a piece of legislation sponsored by Phill Graham back in December 2000 that specifically deregulated the markets that are currently such a disaster.

  • Morgan

    “how this financial debacle happened”

    Answer is simple: liar loans.

    One simple, easily enforceable, regulation could have prevented the whole mess:

    You have to put at least 10% down to buy a house. This would’ve kept housing prices in check, encouraged saving, discouraged reckless speculation, and would’ve kept most buyers right side up in their mortgages. This in turn would’ve bolstered the securities that packaged these mortgages.

  • Peter Nelson

    You have to put at least 10% down to buy a house. This would’ve kept housing prices in check, encouraged saving, discouraged reckless speculation, and would’ve kept most buyers right side up in their mortgages.

    It should be 20%. That’s what it was when I bought my first house. 10% should only be allowed with heavy PMI payments.

  • http://richpoorgap.blogspot.com/2008/01/about-rich-poor-gap.html Steve Roy

    A few thoughts:

    This crisis has weakened the United States terribly during a time of war (two wars). If this economic crisis had been precipitated on purpose by a third party – say a country who wished us ill – it would be an act of war, and any collaborators would be arrested for treason.

    I submit that the banking system knowingly gambled with the economic well being of this country at the worst possible time, knowing full well that it could not stand, and knowing that they would be able to hold us all to ransom using the mountain of debt they piled up as a weapon. Given all this, I call them self-serving, narcissistic traitors, and call for their arrest.

    Secretary Paulson’s attempt to make such a naked power grab in his pitiful three page “plan” while all of our futures hung in the balance leads me to question his patriotism as well.

    And where are the leaders of these banks, whose corruption has brought us to the brink of the abyss? Not one word, not an apology, not an offer to try to fix the mess they’ve made. They just dispatch a legion of stooges (including our “President” ) who spread panic in the public media to stampede us into giving them a $700 billion handout to save their sorry behinds.

    Answer this Mr. Banker – if there were no government funds available, how would you fix this trainwreck? Because that’s what you would be doing right now, on your own, without even being asked, if being a citizen of this country actually meant anything to you. Clearly, it does not.

    I need to see multiple humiliating perp walks, and I need to see them now.

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