The Soros solutionApril 24, 2008: 12:07 PM ET
As any reader of this space may be able to tell by now, I'm a big fan of bailouts. Some believe that the markets should go through the pain of what they have wrought on themselves in order to come out the other side cleaner, stronger, faster. Not me. If there's an easy way out, I'm for it.
I liked it years ago, when they bailed out Chrysler. And when the S&Ls needed help? That was a terrific one, wasn't it? Countrywide (CFC)? Same deal! Why not? And when BenCo moved to... I'm not sure "help" is the right word... whatever they did to Bear Stearns (BSC), I was all for it, too.
Coming up, if and when Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) sink to their pretty knees under the weight of all those loan guarantees, I'll be right there to support the first trillion dollar bailout ever! A new record -- until the next one.
The tsunami of assistance being offered to institutions large and small is always explicated in the same terms: This is the way that the larger eco-system can make sure that smaller fry aren't destroyed when the big fish get caught in the net of destruction. By helping the large, we are protecting the small. Right. I get that.
Destruction is never the best option, even if comfortable and sometimes nasty people prescribe it for the good of the system. If stuff can be saved with money, well, that's what money is for, I think. This is possibly why, when I'm personally depressed, I always help my emotional infrastructure with the expenditure of disposable income. This in turn improves the economy and creates the need for new mercantile establishments, like the Container Store, to contain my effluvia. Money may not be able to buy happiness permanently, but as a short term solution to all kinds of problems it really can't be beat.
This emphasis on top-down help, however, does have its limits if you look at it hard enough. Why are the big always propped up when the small are allowed to get flushed into the drink? Those who raise such questions are often accused of naivete, which is to be distinguished from the outright stupidity that smart people seem to have suffered while creating our current debacle. The risk managers, hedge fund moguls, debt-mongers and analysts may have been the idiots who got us into this. But they don't stop giving advice, and they're not naive enough to think that helping little folks can do anything to protect their packages.
This is why it's refreshing to see someone who has some success in the financial arena articulate what to many might seem a simple, naive and hopelessly humanistic idea. Enter George Soros, cited in the May 15 edition of the New York Review of Books. Here's what the always opinionated and controversial Mr. Soros had to say when Ms. Woodruff asked him how long the housing crisis was going to last:
"Well, it depends on when the authorities wake up, because you need to reduce the number of foreclosures. You need to keep as many people as possible in their houses so that they don't come onto the market. You need to arrest the decline in house prices, but you also need to prevent human suffering and social disruption because it's going to be very, very severe. Certain communities are already hurting and it's going to get a lot worse. So action will have to be taken, but I don't think it's going to happen during this administration."
Wow. Preventing suffering. Keeping people in their homes. Trying to work from the bottom up to save the system from the mistakes of its proprietors?
Nah. Not this gang.
Let's just bail out another big loser, shall we?