A week ago, Simon wrote his “Confusion, Tunneling, and Looting” post, which argued that the confusion created by crises helps the powerful and well-positioned siphon assets out of institutions and out of the government. The revelations that much of the AIG bailout money has gone straight to its large bank counterparties in the form of collateral could fall under this heading.
The looting theme has gone mainstream, with David Leonhardt in The New York Times. I think Leonhardt’s article is good, but it describes looting (taking advantage of implicit government guarantees to take excessive risks) as a cause of the mess we are now in – and as something we’ll need to worry about in preventing crises in the future. But, as Simon argued, it’s also something to worry about right now. As long as the Too Big To Fail doctrine holds, the banks’ implicit government guarantee is more explicit than it ever has been. So whatever perverse incentives helped bring on the crisis are even stronger today.