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Obama's Big Bang Could Do the Trick

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In 1992, I was given what became my favorite hotel bill keepsake when I stayed in Mexico City and was charged one million for a brief business stay.

It wasn't a mistake. That was one million pesos and the Mexican peso was becoming worthless. By 1993, then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari stripped three zeros from the currency and renamed it the Nuevo (or New) Peso.

The transition from worthless to one Nuevo Peso to one U.S. dollar was done in three years from January 1, 1993 to January 1, 1996. The word "nuevo" was removed from the currency and it returned to be called "peso".

Now it is 2009 and what appears to be looming, according to one authoritative press report this weekend, is a massive pre-emptive devaluation of the U.S. dollar as Team Obama readies itself to announce the "Big Bang" -- a gigantic bailout of the frozen U.S. economy involving trillions of dollars.

So far, Washington has allocated US$750 billion for banking rescues and another US$825 billion for job creation projects. But that's nothing.

The venerable Financial Times of London described this "Big Bang". My guess is that it was part-speculation and part-trial ballooning by an embattled White House. Here's what the FT said the "Big Bang" could involve:
  • New rules for banks and TARP (the bank bailout fund) which will impose new discipline and rules by disallowing bonuses, large compensation and other perquisites. In essence, the American government will be converting its busted banking and brokerage sectors from a money pit for greedy players into the regulated, moderate salaries handed out by publicly-owned utilities.
  • A series of "Bad" banks will be created in virtually all countries, led by the U.S. and Germany, to mop up and hold all the bad debts now held by financial institutions. These assets may never amount to much, but taking them off the bankers' books should eliminate their fears about meeting capital ratios as their debts devalue and their customers go under. This is designed to unfreeze credit again.
  • Washington is going to bail out all homeowners in the United States. The U.S. government will guarantee all residential mortgages involving owner-occupants, including mortgages which are dramatically higher than the value of the underlying property.
  • In return for removing mortgage loan credit risk, Washington will require banks to stretch out principal repayments to owner-occupants so that they do not exceed, on a monthly basis, more than 38% of family or owner incomes. When values or incomes go up, presumably, adjustments will be made. This will provide a floor to property values, a form of welfare to the unemployed and another unfreezing of bank credit.

Those are the highlights of what can only be described as a Nuevo Financial System and a currency debasement which will involve the printing of trillions of dollars, Euros and all the others.

It's ironic that the "Big Bang" was used to describe this comprehensive re-regulation and restructuring of a broken financial system worldwide. The first "Big Bang" in the late 1980s started in the UK and led to a massive deregulation and restructuring of financial markets.

Diane Francis blogs at the Financial post.