Rebekka Grun, on The Growth And Crisis Blog writes that we could have protected the consumers rather than the banks, in her posting
Conditional Individual Bailouts – a Potential Anti-crisis Instrument
Why not save the individuals that went bust rather than their banks? Unconditional bailouts, of course, would generate the wrong incentives (for the banks as well, by the way). It is therefore important to attach smart conditions to discourage free riding. For example a course in financial literacy and commitment to a program of (maybe painful) debt restructuring, and possibly further measures to improve the education or health of the affected individual or family.
Your sentiment is correct even if you haven’t done the math on it.
In general terms, there is a simply technique for doing exactly what you’ve suggested, but we lack the infrastructure for it.
The arguments against the solution at the time were that we didn’t know how far prices would fall (I’m not sure, I think we were about right), and that it would make very visible that the government was the source of the problem (true), that it would have geopolitical impact on the value of the dollar (of course, but so would the alternative), and that it could be unfair to people who had behaved well (that would be fixable), and that it would encourage a bubble (this is false).
THe primary problem with distortions is that the distortions are in PRICING. Libertarians would call corrections ‘repricing’. The problem is that human beings must suffer a great deal and absorb a lot of stress to conduct that ‘repricing’. When the state, as the creator of the distortion by the manufacture of cheap credit, could easily reprice major (home) assets by repricing the DEBT of those assets.
In other words, we could have easily corrected the economy by bypassing the banking system, and giving money directly to the citizenry as buy-downs on their mortgages, which would have provided them with cash to spend or to put into banks. Doing this is fine if you do it FAST.
In other words, the state created both the BOOM problem and the CRASH problem because it relies on the irresponsible tool of providing general liquidity – easy money.
In hindsight this is more obvious than it was at the time. Those of us who made this recommendation were the smaller voices, because the banks and the financial industry were so terrified and the impact on the economy if they failed, so severe.
The problem for our country is to put this system in place, so that we are insuring citizens AGAINST their bankers, so that we can use the market to PUNISH bad bankers and their investors, rather than the citizenry.
I’ve worked the mechanics of this process out in some detail, and it’s quite simple. It’s just novel. And it’s anti-bank. And that makes it dangerous to a lot of people in one of our biggest industries: finance.