Bailouts drive Chapter 11 out of fashion
When Robert Reich published Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life in 2007, the U.S. economy was growing, the financial sector was intact, and the housing bubble had just begun to leak. Although that now seems like decades ago, the former Secretary of Labor’s core argument still has a decidedly clear ring of truth; indeed, perhaps now more than ever. Reich is currently professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy.
Now I read a fantastic interview S+B's Ed Baker had with Reich... Excerpts -
."Why should Wall Street executives, shareholders, and creditors come out any better from this taxpayer-supported bailout than they would under a typical Chapter 11 reorganization, where they would get relief from a portion of their debts and bad loans, but not all of them, and they would have to restructure compensation, management, and governance procedures? Despite the bailout — and the relatively easy course that Wall Street has enjoyed — Main Street is still suffering: People are losing their homes at a faster rate than they did before. Small businesses can’t get loans, creditworthy car buyers and others are seeing credit lines shrivel and disappear. So from the standpoint of average Americans, the bailout has had no positive effect whatsoever..Frankly, I don’t quite understand why Lehman didn’t go into Chapter 11. Now, maybe it was too small, or it wasn’t prepared to go into Chapter 11. But in general I don’t see why Wall Street firms are in any greater danger of Chapter 7 liquidation when they can’t pay their bills than any company in the real economy. Even Citigroup: Presumably it is worth more alive than dead. Its creditors would much rather that it stay afloat to pay off its loans than disappear completely. And it has a lot of assets — not necessarily physical assets, but a very strong customer base and a lot of talent. No one would support that it would cease to exist if it chose Chapter 11..S+B: So you see the contours of the bailout as little more than a successful marketing effort?.
REICH: It’s a giant public relations campaign. But I’m not sure that anyone consciously regards it as such. The Treasury Department traditionally has been Wall Street’s embassy in Washington. Treasury secretaries traditionally are closely allied with Wall Street. I’m sure Hank Paulson views Citibank or Morgan Stanley or his old hunting ground, Goldman Sachs, as profoundly different from a manufacturing company or another major services company. The funny thing is, I think that Paulson would be aghast to think of what he did as industrial policy. But of course that’s exactly what he did..
[On reviving Big Three from Detroit] - Today, the management of the Big Three seems to believe that if they can only get through the recession, they’ll be fine. They view their challenge as primarily cyclical. They may be right technically, but they’re wrong over the long haul. Their challenge is structural. They’ve been losing market share for years, they’ve been producing cars that the public doesn’t want. Few young car buyers would ever think to buy an American car anymore. The Big Three have to come up with an entirely different vision of their industry and of their operations, and I hope that that is part of any bailout..
S+B: Why has it taken Detroit so long to get this message, when it’s so obvious to so many people?.
REICH: The culture at the Big Three is very insular, for one thing. The invasion of Japanese carmakers into the U.S. to make vehicles shook up Detroit, and in response, the Big Three have made substantial improvements in quality. But management and labor are still living in a different age. They haven’t been shaken up nearly enough. Labor understands the situation probably better than management. The new UAW contract recognizes the need for substantial changes. Young workers will be coming into the Big Three with wage and benefit packages not all that different from what American workers are getting from the Japanese automakers. But there’s still a long way to go on the management side.
Superb insights. Hope Obama and Tim Geithner read this before they push more bills to the Congress :-)