Adam Smith (the Institute) says not to worry
Romain Rancière, Aaron Tornell and Frank Westermann:
I add: How do investors know "the government will make sure the get repaid"? Because ex ante the costs of not doing so fall on the voters who elect the government.
How big is the current US bailout? The $700 billion bailout bill is equivalent to 5% of GDP. Adding to it the cost of other rescues – Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, AIG – the total bailout costs could go up to $1,400 billion, which is around 10% of GDP. In contrast,
- Mexico incurred bailout costs of 18% of GDP following the 1994 Tequila crisis.
- In the aftermath of the 1997-98 Asian crisis, the bailout price tag was 18% of GDP in Thailand and a whopping 27% in South Korea.
- Somewhat lower costs, although of the same order of magnitude, were incurred by Scandinavian countries in the banking crises of the late 1980s. 11% in Finland (1991), 8% in Norway (1987), and 4% in Sweden (1990).
The bailout costs that the taxpayers are facing today can be seen as an ex post payback for years of easy access to finance in the US economy. The implicit bailout guarantees against systemic crises have supported a high growth path for the economy – albeit a risky one. In effect, the guarantees act as an investment subsidy that leads investors to (1) lend more and (2) at cheaper interest rates. This results in greater investment and growth in financially constrained sectors – such as housing, small businesses, internet infrastructure, and so on. Investors are willing to do so because they know that if a systemic crisis were to take place, the government will make sure they get repaid (at least partially).