Monday, October 13, 2008

Congratulations to Paul Krugman

STOCKHOLM (AP) - American Paul Krugman won the Nobel economics prize today for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity. Krugman has formulated a new theory to answer questions about free trade, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

The citation reads, in part:
What are the effects of free trade and globalization? What are the driving forces behind worldwide urbanization?

Paul Krugman has formulated a new theory to answer these questions. He has thereby integrated the previously disparate research fields of international trade and economic geography.
All readers are well aware that Krugman, born in 1953, is a professor at Princeton University in New Jersey and a columnist for The New York Times. In his last column (yesterday's) written as a non-laureate, Krugman asks if the Brits have saved the world financial system. My excerpts:
. . . . .What we do know, however, is that Mr. Brown and Alistair Darling, the chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to our Treasury secretary), have defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort, with other wealthy nations playing catch-up.

This is an unexpected turn of events. The British government is, after all, very much a junior partner when it comes to world economic affairs. It’s true that London is one of the world’s great financial centers, but the British economy is far smaller than the U.S. economy, and the Bank of England doesn’t have anything like the influence either of the Federal Reserve or of the European Central Bank. So you don’t expect to see Britain playing a leadership role.

. . . The Brown government has shown itself willing to think clearly about the financial crisis, and act quickly on its conclusions. And this combination of clarity and decisiveness hasn’t been matched by any other Western government, least of all our own.

. . . . . The natural thing to do, then — and the solution adopted in many previous financial crises — is to deal with the problem of inadequate financial capital by having governments provide financial institutions with more capital in return for a share of ownership.

This sort of temporary part-nationalization, which is often referred to as an “equity injection,” is the crisis solution advocated by many economists — and sources told The Times that it was also the solution privately favored by Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman.

But when Henry Paulson, the U.S. Treasury secretary, announced his plan for a $700 billion financial bailout, he rejected this obvious path, saying, “That’s what you do when you have failure.” Instead, he called for government purchases of toxic mortgage-backed securities, based on the theory that ... actually, it never was clear what his theory was.

Meanwhile, the British government went straight to the heart of the problem — and moved to address it with stunning speed. On Wednesday, Mr. Brown’s officials announced a plan for major equity injections into British banks, backed up by guarantees on bank debt that should get lending among banks, a crucial part of the financial mechanism, running again. And the first major commitment of funds will come on Monday — five days after the plan’s announcement.

At a special European summit meeting on Sunday, the major economies of continental Europe in effect declared themselves ready to follow Britain’s lead, injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into banks while guaranteeing their debts. And whaddya know, Mr. Paulson — after arguably wasting several precious weeks — has also reversed course, and now plans to buy equity stakes rather than bad mortgage securities (although he still seems to be moving with painful slowness).

. . . . policy is, finally, being driven by a clear view of what needs to be done. Which raises the question, why did that clear view have to come from London rather than Washington?

It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Paulson’s initial response was distorted by ideology. Remember, he works for an administration whose philosophy of government can be summed up as “private good, public bad,” which must have made it hard to face up to the need for partial government ownership of the financial sector.

I also wonder how much the Femafication of government under President Bush contributed to Mr. Paulson’s fumble. All across the executive branch, knowledgeable professionals have been driven out; there may not have been anyone left at Treasury with the stature and background to tell Mr. Paulson that he wasn’t making sense. . . . .
Femafication? I wasn't awake, minutes ago, when I reached for my bookmarked on-line dictionary. Krugman, also an accomplished wordsmith, has coined a new word, the meaning of which is clear to any one starting his second cup of coffee.

Busheney, obedient servants of their Grover Norquistian masters, have succeeded not only in drowning our American government in their bathtubs, but also done their best to leave our USA prey to the stormy seas of international politics and finance.

The hour is late. Hopefully, not too late.