Saturday, 27 September 2008

US bailout bad, Australian bailout good

I've been a vocal critic of the Fed's bailout of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Lehmann Bros. And so I should be expected to similarly disapprove of the Australian government's recent bailout of players in the non-bank lending market.

Ah, but there is a difference. More than one difference, as a matter of fact.

The US bailout was primarily aimed at preventing a market collapse, which is a symptom of a larger problem - a highly illiquid, oligopolistic market. The Australian bailout of second-tier lenders, in contrast, is aimed at preventing the collapse of competition in the market. There is no fear of a market collapse in Australia. There has just been a tightening of credit, which hurts smaller players more than it does the larger ones.

The US bailout shores up market leaders in an oligopolistic market. The Australian bailout shores up second-tier players in a market that threatens to become oligopolistic if they go under.

The US bailout props up entire companies, regardless of their dodgy asset base. The sub-par quality of these assets stems from the subprime crisis that originated in that country. The Australian bailout is more discriminating. The government is making $4 billion available to buy up not dodgy securities but AAA-rated (secured) mortgages from second-tier lenders. These assets are Australia-based with no links to the US subprime market.

The US bailout deepens the government's budget deficit. The Australian bailout still leaves the budget in surplus.

The US has lost the plot where competition is concerned. Their "free market" is about as free as Sukarno's "guided democracy" was a democracy. In contrast, it appears that the adults are still in charge of Australia.

So there is a world of difference between the US model of capitalism and the Australian one after all, and I'm not just waving the Australian flag because I'm a citizen. The leaders Down Under just seem to have a fundamentally more sensible approach to the economy than those at the helm of "the greatest country in the world" - keep markets competitive, don't run up budget deficits, invest taxpayers' money in sound assets.

Labor keeps my vote.

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