Twice in the past month, the Bush Administration has sounded the alarm about the economy and pushed through unprecedented measures: a $700 billion buyout of toxic assets from financial institutions and now a $250 billion plan for the federal government to take ownership interests in banks. Neither of these schemes has been fully implemented, but already there are signs that they are not having the desired effrect of calming financial markets. Stocks, in particular, remain incredibly volatile, swinging wildly from day to day.
There are also voices suggesting that by focusing on bailing out the banks, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and his cohorts made a serious miscalculation. As the New York Times put it today in its account of Wednesday’s 733 point plunge in the Dow: “Investors are recognizing that the financial crisis is not the fundamental problem. It has merely amplified economic ailments that are now intensifying: vanishing paychecks, falling home prices and diminished spending. And there is no relief in sight.”
A blunt attack on the Paulson Doctrine also came today from the Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Sheila Bair. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, she expressed frustration at the failure of the bailout measures to provide direct help to struggling homeowners. Mortgage defaults are “what’s causing the distress at the institution level,” Bair says, “so why not tackle the borrower problem?” The Journal notes that Bair has long been pushing the idea of using federal resources to restructure mortgages to avoid foreclosures, but she was apparently thwarted by Bush Administration figures such as White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten.
Not only is the bailout not providing aid to homeowners, it is making things worse. One of the side effects of the plan has been to push mortgage interest rates higher. Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages have jumped to 6.38 percent from 5.87 percent last week. This makes it more difficult for those with predatory mortgages to refinance, and it also drives down home values. All of this will exacerbate the foreclosure problem and make the mortgage-backed securities held by banks even more worthless.
Paulson & Company seem more clueless every day. The so-called rescue plan needs its own rescue.