AIG: Ben Blinked
Just when we thought the bailouts were over, just when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson insisted failing financial institutions would, like Lehman Brothers, sink or swim on their own, along comes AIG.
Make no mistake, the Wall Street financiers called Bernanke and Paulson’s bluff. After the two men said Washington would not throw taxpayer money into the AIG pot, the big money guys went all in, insisting they would not rescue the rapidly-sinking financial services giant without cash from Washington.
Terrified of what might happen to the worldwide financial markets if AIG were to collapse, Bernanke and Paulson blinked. A few hours later, the Fed promised $85 billion.
So, the Fed and the Bush Administration have now nationalized a $1 trillion company, just a few weeks after rescuing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and a few months after bailing out Bear Stearns. I can’t help but wonder, who has nationalized more assets in the last six months, George Bush or Hugo Chavez?
All the while, Alan Greenspan, whose unswerving belief in Mr. Market set the stage for this crisis, sits on his perch like a latter-day version of Poe’s raven, crying “nevermore.” And George Bush, whose cowboy capitalism led to the financial deregulation that made these staggering losses inevitable, trotted out a spokesman to say he supported government’s acquisition of AIG. Who knew that George W. Bush, he of freedom fries, would turn the U.S. to French-style socialism?
And it isn’t over yet. Mortgage lender Washington Mutual may be headed for collapse, Wachovia is in big trouble. Then, there is GM, which has come crawling to Congress for $25 billion. Even the Red Cross, mismanaged for years, is asking for $150 million. Who will tell them no?
Makes you wonder, what did the poor Lehman Brothers shareholders do wrong? Simple. They made the mistake of buying into a company that was not quite too big to fail. But never fear, investors won’t make that mistake again. After all, they can put their money in companies like the newly created Bank of America-Merrill Lynch-Countrywide, where any future bad judgment will be backed by an implied government guaranty just as solid as Fannie’s. How do I know? Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke just made it crystal clear.