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Nationalize the Banks! We're all Swedes Now

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The proceeds from both these bad and good assets would first go to depositors and then to debt-holders, with some possible sharing with the government to cover administrative costs. If the depositors are paid off in full, then the government actually breaks even.

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Fourth, merge all the remaining bad assets into one enterprise. The assets could be held to maturity or eventually sold off with the gains and risks accruing to the taxpayers.

The eventual outcome would be a healthy financial system with many new banks capitalized by good assets. Insolvent, too-big-to-fail banks would be broken up into smaller pieces less likely to threaten the whole financial system. Regulatory reforms would also be instituted to reduce the chances of costly future crises.

Nationalizing banks is not without precedent. In 1992, the Swedish government took over its insolvent banks, cleaned them up and reprivatized them. Obviously, the Swedish system was much smaller than the U.S. system. Moreover, some of the current U.S. financial institutions are significantly larger and more complex, making analysis difficult. And today's global capital markets make gaming the system easier than in 1992. But we believe that, if applied correctly, the Swedish solution will work here.

Sweden's restructuring agency was not an out-of-control bureaucracy; it delegated all the details of the cleanup to private bankers and managers hired by the government. The process was remarkably smooth.

Basically, we're all Swedes now. We have used all our bullets, and the boogeyman is still coming. Let's pull out the bazooka and be done with it.

Matthew Richardson and Nouriel Roubini, professors at New York University's Stern School of Business, contributed to the upcoming book "Restoring Financial Stability: How to Repair a Failed System."


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