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Profile: James K. Galbraith
James K. Galbraith was a participant or observer in the following events:
According to economists and other finance experts, most of the major US banks are broke, awash in losses from bad bets that overwhelm the banks’ assets. [Link TV, 2/10/2009; Financial Times, 2/10/2009] None of the experts focus on individual banks, and there are exceptions among the 50 largest banks in the country. Consumers and businesses do not need to fret about their federally insured deposits, and even banks that are technically insolvent can continue operating, and could recover their financial health once the economy improves. Until there is a cure for banks’ bad assets, the credit crisis that is dragging down the economy will linger, since banks cannot resume the lending needed to restart commerce.
Suggested Response - Economists and experts say that the answer is a larger, more direct government role than the recently-unveiled Treasury Department plan. The Obama-Geithner plan leans heavily on sketchy public-private investment funding to buy up the banks’ troubled mortgage-backed securities. Experts say that the government needs to delve in, weed out the weakest banks, inject capital into surviving banks and sell off bad assets. “The historical record shows that you have to do it eventually,” said Adam Posen, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Putting it off only brings more troubles and higher costs in the long run.” The Obama administration’s recovery plan could help spur a timely economic spurt, and the value of the banks’ assets could begin to rise. Absent that, the prescription would not be easy or cheap. Estimates of the capital injection needed range from $1 trillion and beyond. By contrast, the commitment of taxpayer money is the $350 billion remaining in the financial bailout approved by Congress last fall.
Pessimism - In a new report Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University, estimates that total losses on loans by American financial firms and the fall in the market value of the assets they hold will reach $3.6 trillion, up from his previous estimate of $2 trillion. [Global Economic Monitor, 2/10/2009] Of the total, he calculates that American banks face half that risk, or $1.8 trillion, with the rest borne by other financial institutions in the United States and abroad. “The United States banking system is effectively insolvent,” Roubini says. [International Herald Tribune, 2/13/2009]
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