Thursday, November 13, 2008

Beyond Panic

When in danger,
When in doubt,

Run in circles,

Scream and shout.
— Old Sailor's Proverb
I've been scanning my thesaurus looking for a word to describe Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson during the current economic disaster. Panic no longer suffices, he passed that emotion a month ago. Hysteria is closer to the mark but is still lacking. We may have to invent a new word, "Hank has gotten throughly paulsony."
Paulsony (adj) - characterized by wild gyrations during a difficult circumstance. Being decisively indecisive. Moving helter-skelter from one radical position to another, the positions often being wildly inconstant with each other.
While George Bush continues the blithe detachment that has been his principle character trait since sobering up, Paulson has been anything but blithe. Tune into MSNBC and look into his eyes. He looks like someone who has been run over by a stampeding herd of elephants.

The original Paulson bailout, the one sold to Congress, was intended to buy illiquid securities from banks. That never got off the ground. The next plan was to give money to banks (for preferred stock) on the understanding the banks would in turn loan the money to the public. The banks took the money with no strings attached and used it to gobble up smaller companies and pay their executives hefty bonuses. The current Paulson plan junks the original purpose entirely. He now proposed to fritter the money away on an indistinct, disjointed hodge-podge of programs. I'm not too interested in the details because I'm sure there will be another policy shift next week.

We are aboard a ship at sea on a moonless night. The captain is running around the ship, naked, screaming about icebergs and goblins. But, that's okay because the ship is steaming confidently at flank speed in a tight circle. We may not get out of this alive but at least we'll die dizzy.

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