Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bad Assets Could Lead To Japanese Style Lost Decade

Mark Thoma from Economist's View makes the point that we need to address the bad assets that large banks are still trying to put off dealing with. Simply ignoring the problem could result in a Japanese style lost decade according to economist Keiichiro Kobayashi. See the following post for more on this.

[More Side of the road blogging - stopped for a moment at the Great Salt Lake.] When I talked to the senate's COP panel, one of many things that I emphasized was the need to develop plans in advance to deal with various contingencies. Without such plans policy actions - even justifiable ones - appear ad hoc and also face resistance that delays their implementation or prevents them from being put into place altogether.

For example, we need a plan on the shelf and ready to go for dismantling large banks that have failed, something that has received a lot of attention. It has received much less attention, but I also think we need a plan for disposing troubled financial assets when the need arises. I still believe that the crisis would have been much less severe if very early, prior to Lehman for sure, the government had moved aggressively to buy bad assets from bank balance sheets. it took far too long, and when they finally decided to do this (i.e. the original Paulson plan), they had no idea how to value the assets, there was considerable political resistance because nobody knew how the program would work (allowing lots of false information to enter the debate), and so on, and this program never really got off the ground. The assets are still there waiting for the miracle of rising asset prices to restore their value.

Having a plan ready in advance that specifies how assets will be valued, how taxpayers will be protected if the government overpays (overpaying can help with recapitalization, but it shouldn't be a gift), and so on, a plan that has been approved in advance by legislators (at least implicitly) so as to reduce political resistance, will overcome many of the technical problems and objections that prevented the bad asset removal programs from being used effectively in this crisis.

Keiichiro Kobayashi believes these toxic assets, many of which are still hidden on bank balance sheets, are still a problem and could result in a Japan style lost decade if the government does not remove them, and he calls for a new macroeconomic paradigm that puts these issues front and center (On his main point about whether financial sector recovery is necessary before the real economy can recover, I think we will recover either way, but agree that recovery would be faster if these assets were removed once and for all - but I should get back on the road...):

Why this new crisis needs a new paradigm of economic thought, by Keiichiro Kobayashi, Commentary, Vox EU

This post has been republished from Mark Thoma's Blog, Economist's View.

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