The bailout doesn't seem to be working. The problem isn’t just $1 trillion in subprime loans, the problem is $62trillion in credit default swap (CDS) liability for collateral debt obligations (CDOs) that no one can unravel or value (or even understand).
What is a CDO or CDS? Imagine taking paper debt like mortgages, subprime mortgages, car loans, credit cards loans, and pretty much anything you can imagine. Now combine and mix the paper in a blender, spiking it with worthless rhetorical hyperbole that derivatives are the new paradigm of investments. Then pour the mixture in a pyramid of champagne glasses, to represent the varying levels of return (and risk), with the higher the glass, the lower the return and risk. That represents the CDOs. Now as you sell the mess, insure against the risk of the CDOs decreasing in value with CDSs. Presto, $1 trillion of bad loans is transmuted into $62 trillion in faux wealth. An alchemist would be proud.
That I think is a fair metaphor for the problem, and because of the scope of the problem the Feds don't know what to do. The 1929 depression offers a valuable lesson. A recent article in Time, Are Paulson and Bernanke Running Out of Options? states that:
"After the 1929 collapse, which at its worst left a quarter of the workforce jobless, the U.S. instituted safeguards to ensure liquidity, confidence and trust in the U.S. financial system. There were four pillars: insuring the bank deposits of everyday Americans, allowing access to government funds in case of a panic, providing a regime for the orderly failure of badly run companies and limiting how much credit could be leveraged off a particular asset."
The government should do the same now, defend depository institutions and provide a regime for the orderly failure of badly run non-depository financial institutions and insurance companies. In the process the government and the public will have to make some tough choices and learn to live within a budget.
What do you think?
P.S. Somebody should pay me for this, I prefer gold until further notice.