Terry Moran of ABC News yesterday interviewed President Obama. Whole transcript is here.
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS: There are a lot of economists who look at these banks and they say all that garbage that's in them renders them essentially insolvent. Why not just nationalize the banks?
OBAMA: Well, you know, it's interesting. There are two countries who have gone through some big financial crises over the last decade or two. One was Japan, which never really acknowledged the scale and magnitude of the problems in their banking system and that resulted in what's called "The Lost Decade." They kept on trying to paper over the problems. The markets sort of stayed up because the Japanese government kept on pumping money in. But, eventually, nothing happened and they didn't see any growth whatsoever.
Sweden, on the other hand, had a problem like this. They took over the banks, nationalized them, got rid of the bad assets, resold the banks and, a couple years later, they were going again. So you'd think looking at it, Sweden looks like a good model. Here's the problem; Sweden had like five banks. [LAUGHS] We've got thousands of banks. You know, the scale of the U.S. economy and the capital markets are so vast and the problems in terms of managing and overseeing anything of that scale, I think, would -- our assessment was that it wouldn't make sense. And we also have different traditions in this country.
Obviously, Sweden has a different set of cultures in terms of how the government relates to markets and America's different. And we want to retain a strong sense of that private capital fulfilling the core -- core investment needs of this country.
And so, what we've tried to do is to apply some of the tough love that's going to be necessary, but do it in a way that's also recognizing we've got big private capital markets and ultimately that's going to be the key to getting credit flowing again.
Paul Krugman uses his blog to respond:
Yes, Obama is impressively articulate and well-informed — and his response shows that he has actually considered the issue. It’s light-years better than what we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years.
But his two main arguments aren’t actually very good. Yes, we have thousands of banks — but the problems are concentrated in a handful of big players. In fact, the Geithner plan, such as it is, already acknowledges this: the “stress test” is to be applied only to banks with assets over $100 billion, of which there are supposed to be around 14.
And the argument that our culture won’t stand for nationalization — well, our culture isn’t too friendly towards bank bailouts of any kind. Yet those bailouts are necessary; and even in America they may be more palatable if taxpayers at least get to throw the bums out.
Oh, and not a week goes by without the FDIC taking several smaller banks into receivership. Nationalization is actually as American as apple pie.