Friday, December 05, 2008

Searching for acorns

Stock intended to eventually earn taxpayers a profit as part of the Bush administration's massive bank bailout has lost a third of its value — about $9 billion — in barely one month, according to an Associated Press analysis. Shares in virtually every bank that received federal money have remained below the prices the government negotiated.
Associated Press, December 5
This unsurprising report arrived, coincidentally, with similar news (on a somewhat smaller scale) from our latest 401K statement. The reality seems clear enough: markets for exotic financial instruments — especially bundled derivatives traded with minimal disclosure and even less regulation — have become so complex that they're beyond the understanding of those who are trying to set policy and salvage the economy.

The Bush administration is reduced to throwing hundreds of billions of dollars into a black hole in the hope that something will miraculously stimulate a positive response. When the meltdown of mortgage-backed securities began in September, you could easily detect the fear on the faces of congressional leaders, as much as they struggled to project calm to avoid provoking a panic.

Two months later, no one yet seems to have a minimal grasp of what's happening, much less a glimpse of the steps needed to avoid further collapse. The hope seems to be, as an old friend from Nebraska might say: Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in awhile. So far, the hogs are coming up empty.

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