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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

March 25, 2009 at 10:00 AM

What Obama rally? Skepticism over the latest bailout plan

Top of the News: Whatever the ups and downs of the market, the reviews are coming in about the Obama administration’s plan to form a public-private partnership to buy “toxic” assets — and there’s serious skepticism.

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz called it “seriously flawed,” telling Reuters, “Quite frankly, this amounts to robbery of the American people. I don’t think it’s going to work because I think there’ll be a lot of anger about putting the losses so much on the shoulder of the American taxpayer.”

On Tim Duy’s Fed Watch blog, he makes an essential point about framing “success”: “Policymakers are assuming that restoring proper functioning in credit markets — and confidence in general — is equivalent to a housing price rebound. They seem incapable of envisioning a world in which this is not the case. This tunnel vision prevents policymakers of trying to devise policy which assumes that the many of the assets in the banking system are simply ‘bad.’ For Bernanke and Geithner, there are no bad assets. Only misunderstood assets.” Failure might mean an outright inflationary policy as the only alternative.

“Unfreezing” credit markets so productive, low-debt businesses can make payroll, buy inventory and expand will definitely help. Nouriel Roubini’s RGE Monitor says this may take time, however, and it will still run up against the wall of collapsing demand as more people lose their jobs and companies see their business fall off? I think Obama has chosen a centrist plan with broad establishment support — hence Wall Street’s relief. Whether is will work is another matter.

Midweek Bits: The must-read of our season of discontent is Matt Taibbi’s “The Big Takeover” in Rolling Stone. It’s a trenchant and frighteningly on-point look at how AIG helped bring on the near collapse of the financial system — and how the same kind of “players” still hope to profit from it. Bottom line: The crisis isn’t about money — it’s about power. Definitely water cooler — and after-work martini — talk.

Some good news for a change in housing, with February new-house sales rising unexpectedly. It’s way too early to break out the bubble, however. More than a million houses are on the market and it will take time to soak up this demand. More importantly, all the business plans — from the biggest house builder to the one-person remodel outfit — were based on a bubble that’s not coming back. That “reset” will take time.

Save the date: Robert Shiller, bestselling author and economics professor at Yale University, will speak from 1-2:45 p.m. on Monday, April 27, in Seattle Pacific University’s Upper Gwinn Commons. For more information, call 206-281-2723.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

FedEx says no planes

If workers want a union

Class warfare, on time

Comments | More in Banking, Inflation, Macro/Big picture

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