The Bailout Failure and the End of Panic Politics

I am glad the US Congress is finally tired of panic-driven policy making.

I hate this neo-con style of cramming through terrible legislation with minimal debate.  It’s been disastrous.  First it was the Patriot Act, prepared well in advance by the PNAC but passed in a matter of days without even being read by most legislators. Why?  Because if it wasn’t passed IMMEDIATELY and without reflection, terrorists were going to blow America to the bottom of the sea.  Then the invasion of Iraq, also prepared well in advance by the PNAC, passed effortlessly (apart from a few riots, but that was just the public), without NATO cooperation and without UN sanction.  Why?  Because Saddam was about to attack America (or Israel, or the Kurds, or whoever).

The bailout bill, which in its original form was only three pages long and would have given a private banker (Henry Paulson) unsupervised control of almost a trillion dollars, was only the latest fiasco in an 8 year history of neo-con blackmail and I am relieved the US congress has grown tired of this “now or never” style of legislation.  “Let me tap your phone without a warrant, send your kids to war and transfer your treasury bonds to private banks or Osama bin Laden is going to rape your daughter.  Do it NOW!  No time to think!  End times!  End times!”

I know it’s supposed to be some kind of giant tragedy that the bill didn’t pass in its current form (according to the papers) but why not think things through anyway?  There’s no guarantee it even would have worked.  If you’re a business journalist, buck up!  It’s not like that’s the last economic rescue package the US will ever see.  You’ve got at least a decade of recession (which you would have had anyway) to figure out how to solve the problem of predatory lending. Besides, until a passable bill is hashed out, the US can (and surely will) keep doing what they’re doing:  Nationalize some assets, inject capital into some institutions, oversee a few asset seizures and private buy-outs and act on a case by case basis – just like every other country that is struggling from the sub-prime mortgage crisis (albeit with much less wild-eyed desperation).

The next attempt will almost certainly be superior to this one, just as the 160 some-odd pages subject to debate and negotiation were superior to the initial three page plan Bush started with (which, by the way, is a sure-fire indication that the PNAC didn’t write it in advance – they were wordy as hell.  More likely, Paulson reconstructed it from vague memories of a wet dream).  OK, it wasn’t passed, but I seriously doubt it’s bound for the shredder.  After some more negotiation it will have another kick at the can.

Thank heavens American legislators are growing some backbone.  I was reading about the dangers of the housing bubble years ago.  There has been plenty of time to come up with a plan that could pass a vote.  But no, that’s not the neo-con way.  If defense industry lobbyists haven’t already written you a plan that can pass a vote on the sheer force of public panic, you might as well whip something up at the very last minute and use the same tactics.  The panic approach worked with Iraq, worked with the Patriot Act, why not Wall Street Welfare?  No need to look at the fine print, better to whip everyone into a frenzy so that their elected representatives are afraid to ask questions or consider other options.

Never mind that not looking at the fine print is what caused this problem in the first place.

Good riddance to panic politics.  I’m confident that after some sober consideration some kind of agreement will be reached, but it was madness to stake a trillion dollars on homework churned out the night before it was due.  Hats off to those bipartisan “no” votes.  I think you are right; I think you can do better.