Eventually the government might be forced to nationalize a large swath of the banking sector, but they’ll be dragged kicking and screaming. Yesterday’s non-bailout announcement aimed to preserve the status quo, and Obama himself dismissed the idea that the US could adopt the Swedish model in an interview with ABC
ORAN: There are a lot of economists who look at these banks and they say all that garbage that’s in them renders them essentially insolvent. Why not just nationalize the banks?
OBAMA:Well, you know, it’s interesting. There are two countries who have gone through some big financial crises over the last decade or two. One was Japan, which never really acknowledged the scale and magnitude of the problems in their banking system and that resulted in what’s called “The Lost Decade.” They kept on trying to paper over the problems. The markets sort of stayed up because the Japanese government kept on pumping money in. But, eventually, nothing happened and they didn’t see any growth whatsoever.
Sweden, on the other hand, had a problem like this. They took over the banks, nationalized them, got rid of the bad assets, resold the banks and, a couple years later, they were going again. So you’d think looking at it, Sweden looks like a good model. Here’s the problem; Sweden had like five banks. [LAUGHS] We’ve got thousands of banks. You know, the scale of the U.S. economy and the capital markets are so vast and the problems in terms of managing and overseeing anything of that scale, I think, would — our assessment was that it wouldn’t make sense. And we also have different traditions in this country.
Obviously, Sweden has a different set of cultures in terms of how the government relates to markets and America’s different. And we want to retain a strong sense of that private capital fulfilling the core — core investment needs of this country.
And so, what we’ve tried to do is to apply some of the tough love that’s going to be necessary, but do it in a way that’s also recognising we’ve got big private capital markets and ultimately that’s going to be the key to getting credit flowing again.
We’re glad Obama believes so much in capitalism, but we’re not sure how propping up banks that otherwise would have gone bankrupt is more capitalist than what they did in Sweden, where the bad actors lost their private status.
Roger Ehrenberg thinks Obama’s answer is total hogwash
The punch line: while being creative with statistics, the President dismissed Sweden’s (successful) approach to restructuring its banking sector on both economic and ideological grounds. His stance that Sweden “only” nationalized five banks, while the US would need to nationalize thousands to achieve the same effect, is both specious and absurd. No discussion of relative GDPs. No comparison of the size of the banks that were nationalized relative to, say, the top 10 banks in the US. It was one of those typical “a politician says it on TV so it must be true” moments, only I’m really disappointed that President Obama is resorting to such tactics to sell the Geithner Plan not a month into his Administration.