The smartest guy in the room?
One thing that really puzzles me about the great bailout plan is the almost universal acceptance that Paulson should be the one to run it, at least until the next Administration. More generally, I’m surprised by the kid-glove treatment he’s been getting in public discussion, even from people highly critical of the plan.
Let’s stipulate that he’s a smart guy. He wouldn’t have risen to the top in Wall Street if he wasn’t. And, of course, if having smart guys running the show was sufficient to ensure good outcomes, Wall Street wouldn’t be in its current mess.
Looking back at the record, plenty of people have observed that, at least in his public statements, Paulson repeatedly underestimated the severity of the crisis. And there’s nothing in the ad hoc shifts between cash infusions, bailouts and bankruptcies to suggest that he has much more of an understanding of what’s going on than anyone else. As Paul Krugman has said, he’s making it up as he goes along, just like the rest of us.
But the bailout plan is something else. The possibility of a meltdown like this has been talked about, increasingly seriously, for the last couple of years. Yet Paulson responds with a three page document saying “I need $700 billion, no questions asked”. Wasn’t there a contingency plan? Or worse still, was this the contingency plan?
Either way, Paulson should be sacked forthwith.