What about the government running the banks? It would not make much difference, really. The government would not do a bad job at running the banks since clearly no one has done a good job at it. The problem is the borrowing. The federal government already borrows over a trillion dollars a year. Nationalizing our banks would add trillions of dollars more.
It is not that the government is not already in the banking business, either. Last September Uncle Sam stepped in and effectively nationalized two of the largest mortgage buyers in the country. The government placed Fannie May and Freddie Mac into conservatorship. It could because it backed both of those companies, which had federal charters.
It might have been hard to imagine before the election, but even Republicans such as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) concede that nationalization may be necessary. “To me, banking and housing are the root cause of this problem. I'm very much afraid any program to salvage the banks is going to require the government . . . I would not take off [the table] the idea of nationalizing the banks."
The president opposes it. "This administration continues to strongly believe that a privately held banking system is the correct way to go, ensuring that they are regulated sufficiently by this government," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said when asked about nationalizing the banks. I am suspicious whenever a White House press secretary says anything because that is how it launches trial balloons.
Lawmakers already semi-nationalized the banking sector after the first rumbles of the credit crisis last fall. The Bush/Paulson treasury forked over $350 billion in government aid to more than 300 institutions in turn for some of those firms’ shares and other securities. Bank nationalization worked in Sweden with its five banks; we have thousands of banks here, but that does not mean nationalization cannot work here. To say no to nationalizing US banks because that is not the way we do things in the good old USA does not make much sense. The First Bad Bank of the United States is an idea whose time has come.