The Treasury Secretary claims taxpayers won’t lose a full trillion, because the assets aren’t as worthless as their current market prices suggest. But if that’s true, why does he continue to insist on federal accounting rules that force banks to value their assets at the current depressed market prices? Either the accounting rules are right — in which case taxpayers will end up losing a trillion dollars — or they are wrong, amplifying financial panics — in which case the rules should be repealed, so that banks, not taxpayers, will be able to take the risk of holding the assets. (If these accounting rules, known as “mark-to-market” accounting, had been in place in the late 1980s, “every major commercial bank would have collapsed,” wiping out the economy).
Monday, March 23, 2009