The basic idea is to use special auctions to recreate a market for these securities with many competing sellers and one buyer (the Treasury), so that a credible "market" price can be established. If that price turns out to be below what those securities are now valued at on the banks' balance sheets, then banks will have to take the loss. If the price turns out to be higher, then banks may be able to record gains. The point isn't to bail out institutions that have made bad bets and suffered credit losses, but to provide a buyer of last resort so the market can begin pricing again.Pearlstein makes clear that the time to act is now:
The financial situation is now downright scary. Don't look at the stock market -- that's not where the problem is. The problem is in the credit markets, which are quickly freezing. I won't bore you with technical indicators like Libor and Treasury swap spreads, but if you talk to people who work these markets every day, as I have, they report that the money markets are in worse shape than they were last August, or even during the currency crises of 1998.House Republicans have a very simple decision to make: fix the problem or try to teach Wall Street a lesson. Pearlstein makes an apt point: sometimes you have to let the experts just do their jobs:
Banks and big corporations and even money-market funds are hoarding cash, refusing to lend it out for a day or a week or a month. Even the best companies are having trouble floating bonds at reasonable rates. And the shadow banking system -- the market in asset-backed securities that ultimately supplies the capital for most home loans, car loans, college loans -- is almost completely shut down.
People are so nervous, and there is so much distrust, that all it would take is one more hit to trigger the modern-day equivalent of a nationwide bank run. Financial institutions would fail, part of your savings would be wiped out, jobs would be lost and a lot of economic activity would grind to a halt. Such a debacle would cost us a lot more than $700 billion.
The reality is that these guys will be operating in uncharted territory, making things up as they go along. That means there are no assurances that any particular approach will work and no assurances that this will be the final solution. It also means that, just as we entrust generals to fight a war, we are going to have to trust the Treasury to find a way out of this crisis.