Jan 31 2010

It all came down to a lucky guess?

“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”  – 1 Corinthians 14:8


There are still many that believe the U.S. Government should have allowed the big banks along with Fannie and Freddie and AIG to go under.  I recall one colleague explaining to me that the “invisible hand” would have corrected the situation.  He went on to suggest that any institution responsible for this disaster should have to pay for their foolishness anyway.  Being somewhat of a Keynesian, I never believed the government should look the other way and now I am more convinced than ever that we were on the brink of complete global financial wipeout that would have truly changed the course of human history.  The current environment is unpleasant but it could be far, far worse.


For those that think this was all some grand conspiracy to change the political landscape or that our leaders are really in control, a recent article by Laura Blumenfeld in the Washington Post about Neil Kashkari, former Interim Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability, and a book by Henry Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury during the darkest hours of the crisis, tell a different story.


“Seven hundred billion was a number out of the air,” Kashkari recalls.  “It was a political calculus.  I said, ‘We don’t know how much is enough.  We need as much as we can get [from Congress].  What about a trillion?’ ‘No way,’ Hank shook his head.  I said, ‘Okay, what about 700 billion?’  We didn’t know if it would work.  We had to project confidence, hold up the world.  We couldn’t admit how scared we were, or how uncertain.”


And according to Paulson, after he and Timothy Geithner failed to find a buyer for Lehman Brothers, “My stomach tightened up and it was one of those times during the crisis where I was momentarily overcome by fear.”  He then called home to his wife Wendy: “And I said, ‘Everybody’s going to be looking to me for answers, and I don’t have any.  Please help me, pray for me.’  But boy, that was, that was a dark, dark hour.”


We will never know what would have happened with a different group of leaders – but I for one am grateful it didn’t turn out worse.  The question is: did we learn from our dreadful mistakes?

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