"Make no mistake," as the politicians like to say. They'll be discussing, and debating, the AIG takeover for the rest of all our lives, and beyond. The past two weeks, beginning with the takeover of Fannie and Freddie, mark a cornerstone in U.S. economic history. And it ain't over, though it's just possible that this marks the high-water mark.
Meanwhile, four points to consider on the day after:
The Democrats ought to tread carefully in criticizing the action. While it's not yet clear, the nation's bacon just may have been saved by the Bush administration's economic brain trust. Irony aplenty, huh. When biographers scrape the barrel for a handful of positive things to say about Bush 43, the fact that he appointed Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson will be at the top of the list. Benanke's academic speciality was the Great Depression. He understood how bad it can get and what government can do to help prevent it. And Paulson is a creature of Wall Street who understands the toxic nature of AIG's obligations (a Superfund site if ever there was one) and, as a born trader, had the presence of mind to figure out an answer fast and do something. It may not be perfect, it may not even be legal, but he acted. Imagine that this had happened on John Snow's watch. No, don't go there.
Take a bow, Michael Lewitt. Imagine how many people in high places read his New York Times op-ed yesterday. Maybe even the president.
Foreign governments (read China & friends), mega-holders of U.S. agency debt, were big winners in the Fannie and Freddie conservatorship. They won again with the AIG decision. Who says W doesn't understand the global economy?
Barring Armageddon, which of course can never be ruled out (Sarah Palin's pastor would remind us it's right around the corner, thanks be to God, and you better get ready), that's it for significant intervention from Uncle Sam. Meaning that Alan Fishman, Washington Mutual's chairman of two weeks, better scatter all the magic dust he brought with him, because there's going to be no help short of FDIC. Remember, however, that Fishman, when asked what he could do about WAMU's problems, replied: "I have no idea. Probably nothing." Ah, well.