165 Economists Rip Bailout Plan

At least 165 economists have signed a letter to Congress members warning of three pitfalls in the Bush administration’s $700 billion proposal to deal with the Wall Street crisis.

The economists say they are well aware of the current financial situation and agree there’s a need for bold action but ask Congress “not to rush.”

They urge lawmakers to hold appropriate hearings and “to carefully consider the right course of action.”

The three problems with the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the economists say, are its fairness, ambiguity and long-term effects.

President Bush was joined today by presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama at an emergency White House meeting on the plan. Key members of Congress said this morning they had struck a deal in principle, but the outcome of the proposal is unclear. Participants in the White House meeting called it extremely contentious.

The proposal allows the government to buy the faulty mortgage-based assets of severely weakened financial institutions to prevent them from collapsing and setting off a chain of events that would affect citizens, including depletion of retirement accounts, rising home foreclosures, bankrupt businesses and lost jobs.

The economists contend the plan is unfair, because it’s a “subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense.”

“Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses,” the economists say in their letter. “Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.”

The plan is ambiguous, they contend, as neither “the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear.”

“If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards,” the letter states.

If the plan is enacted, the economists argue further, “its effects will be with us for a generation.”

“For all their recent troubles, America’s dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity,” they say. “Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.”

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