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Does The Geithner Plan Have Japanese Roots?

Adam Posen has an interesting nugget in his Daily Beast piece comparing our financial crisis to the Japanese situation in the 1990s:

In essence, the U.S. Treasury’s plan to subsidize private investors’ purchases of the banks’ toxic assets is a too-clever-by-half mechanism to fix the banks while avoiding going to Congress for more upfront on-budget expenditures. One can imagine the discussions at the White House: We have a budget to pass, and cannot give up those goals to give the bankers still more. Figure out some way to do this off-budget. ...

I know that the very same self-limiting discussions took place at Okurasho, the Japanese Ministry of Finance circa 1995-1998. And they ended with the same result, a series of bank-recapitalization plans that tried to mobilize private-sector monies and overpay for distressed bank assets without forcing the banks to truly write off the losses. Even though the top Japanese technocrats at the ministry were even more insulated from a weak Diet than the congressionally unconfirmed advisers currently running economic policy for the Obama administration, they did worse. Whatever the political context, countries usually try to end banking crises on the cheap, with a limited public role at first, overpaying for distressed assets and failing to change banks’ behavior, only to have to go back in a couple of years later.

I'd love to know a bit more about these failed recapitalization plans and how much they resemble the Geithner plan. If nothing else, the Japanese experience seems to undercut my hypothesis that the more democratic your institutions, the harder it is to respond to a financial crisis.

--Noam Scheiber