Friday, November 20, 2009

Krugman on AIG

by Calculated Risk on 11/20/2009 12:30:00 PM

From Paul Krugman writing in the NY Times: The Big Squander

During the bubble years, many financial companies created the illusion of financial soundness by buying credit-default swaps from A.I.G. — basically, insurance policies in which A.I.G. promised to make up the difference if borrowers defaulted on their debts. It was an illusion because the insurer didn’t have remotely enough money to make good on its promises if things went bad.

... by the time A.I.G.’s hollowness became apparent, the world financial system was on the edge of collapse and officials judged — probably correctly — that letting A.I.G. go bankrupt would push the financial system over that edge. So A.I.G. was effectively nationalized; its promises became taxpayer liabilities.

... it seemed only fair for [the financial companies] to bear part of the cost of the bailout, which they could have done by accepting a “haircut” on the amounts A.I.G. owed them. Indeed, the government asked them to do just that. But they said no — and that was the end of the story. Taxpayers not only ended up honoring foolish promises made by other people, they ended up doing so at 100 cents on the dollar.
Krugman argues that government officials have squandered the trust of the American people by treating the financial industry with kid gloves. He argues that this make it more difficult to pass another stimulus packaged focused on job creation.