The events of the last week showed the urgency of dealing with the financial crisis. There is a real risk that the banking system will freeze up, preventing ordinary business transactions, like meeting payrolls. This would quickly lead to an economic disaster with mass layoffs and plunging output.
The Fed and Treasury are right to take steps to avert this disaster. While there is an urgency to put a bailout program in place, there are several important issues that Congress should address in the context of bailout.
While there is not time to prepare all the details of the financial restructuring that will follow after the bailout, there can be an agreement on the outlines that this restructuring should take. This list of suggestions is presented in that context:
Principles to Guide the Bailout
1) Financial institutions should be forced to endure the bulk of the losses with taxpayer funds only used where absolutely necessary to sustain the orderly operation of the financial system.
2) The bailout must be designed to minimize the opportunity for gaming.
3) The bailout should be designed to minimize moral hazard.
4) In the case of delinquent mortgages that come into the government’s possession, there should be an effort to work out an arrangement that allows the homeowner to remain in her house as owner. If this proves impossible, then former homeowners should be allowed to remain in their homes as renters paying the market rent. This should be done even if it leads to losses to the government.
5) There should be serious efforts to severely restrict executive compensation at any companies that directly benefit from the bailout.
Principles for Restructuring the Financial System
1) Combating asset bubbles must be one of the Fed’s key responsibilities.
2) The government should impose a modest financial transactions tax, comparable to the one in the
3) Regulatory agencies should require that potentially tradable assets (e.g. credit default swaps) actually be traded on exchanges.
4) There should be strict limits on leverage for all regulated financial institutions.
5) Fannie and Freddie should remain fully public institutions, returning them to a status comparable to Fannie’s prior to its privatization in 1968.
6) The Fed should be restructured so that all the key decision makers (e.g. the open market committee) are appointed by democratically elected officials. Its responsibility is to manage the economy in the interest of the general public, not the financial sector.
Given the urgency for passing a bill, Congress should look to enshrine principles in a bailout bill that will allow subsequent legislation to circumvent ordinary procedural issues (e.g. the filibuster in the Senate).
Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media’s coverage of economic issues.