Give banks vouchers so we get bucks

Benjamin Barber

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: Don't bother stopping me if you've heard this one before -- The government has some new ideas for shoring up the nation's banking system. President Obama has promised that taxpayer bucks which go to banks in the next round must be passed on, to provide credit to businesses and individuals. But the plan to commit more than $1.5 trillion more in public and private funds is short on details so far. How do we make sure we won't have to live through Groundhog Day all over again? Commentator Ben Barber has an idea.


BEJAMIN BARBER: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has offered a second phase bank bailout plan that is mostly carrots and no sticks.

Trouble is without sticks, the banks are likely to figure out how to hang on to the big bucks the way they did the first time around last fall. So here's another proposal that no free market zealot can object to: vouchers.

That's right, let's submit the banks to the privatizing discipline of vouchers to which schools have been made to submit. Give the banks the big bucks, but make it so they have no choice but to, well, pass the buck -- the bucks -- on to you and me. Sort of like food stamps, you gotta spend them on food.

It won't be the dreaded feds but the banks that will negotiate and administer the loans. But they will have to work with federal vouchers that can be redeemed only when they are credited to a client who has obtained a home mortgage or car loan or business credit.

Sorry, Mr. Bank CEO, but the vouchers can't be used to pay salaries or bonuses, and are not redeemable for merger and acquisition deals. And if we put a shelf limit of say three to six months on them, these vouchers can't be held in a safe as insurance against future debts and losses when those packages of bad debt are finally opened and evaluated. The banks will have a simple choice: use 'em or lose 'em!

So there it is: The banks get the vouchers, but we the people get the cash. Cause the cash is available only when a loan is approved and the banks pass on the dough to those real folks who, as credit recipients, can get the real economy moving again.

And hey, with vouchers, the government can truly pass the buck without worrying that the buck will stop with the banks. And Tim Geitner can relax because nobody will be able to call him a bank nationalizer or accuse Larry Summers of socialist leanings.

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