24 March 2009

"Too big to fail" is a blank check

One of the excuses used for the recent bailouts was that the failing companies were too big to fail. The failure of these companies would have ripple effects so catastrophic as to collapse the nation's economy, perhaps even the world's economies.

The same rationale undergirds the push to give to the executive branch expanded power to seize "non-bank financial companies, such as large insurers, investment firms and hedge funds, whose collapse would damage the broader economy", instead of just banks. (The comparisons with FDR get uncannier and uncannier. If Hoover was FDR-Lite -- and he was -- then Bush will go down, if the economic history is correctly written, as Obama-Lite.)

It sounds good, to some. But the fact of the matter is this. If a company really is too big to fail, then it is too big to fail even if it is entirely solvent. For then it must be kept solvent, always. If "too big to fail" is a good enough excuse for a government take-over of companies on the verge of collapse, then it is an even better excuse -- when you think about it -- for a government take-over of too-big-to-fail-but-still-solvent companies, as well.

As soon as a company gets to be a certain size, the unfederal government will being take-over proceedings. And since the purpose of any business is simply to employ people, the unfederal department in charge of initiating these proceedings should be the Department of Labor. Poetic, when you think about it.

But I have digressed.

Soon, insolvent companies will be required to file permission with an unfederal department of something-or-other to secure permission before filing for bankruptcy. A three-member commission will determine whether the firm belongs to the 2B2F (i.e., Too Big To Fail) category. If so, take-over proceedings will begin. Bankruptcy will be averted. O, happy day!

But, really, if one of government's responsibilities is to ensure full employment then any business which employs people should be considered too big to fail. When you, personally, are unemployed, the unemployment rate is 100%. (Yes, it's a silly notion. I borrowed it from the Dickens novel Hard Times. One of the Gradgrind children says something like it.)

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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