Brad DeLong has a very helpful post and certainly less pissy than Krugman. Money quote:

Q: Why is the government making hedge and pension fund managers kick in $30 billion?

A: So that they have skin in the game, and so do not take excessive risks with the taxpayers' money because their own money is on the line as well.

Q: Why then should hedge and pension fund managers agree to run this?

A: Because they stand to make a fortune when markets recover or when the acquired toxic assets are held to maturity: they make the full equity returns on their $30 billion invested--which is leveraged up to $1 trillion with government money.

Q: Why isn't this just a massive giveaway to yet another set of financiers?

A: The private managers put in $30 billion and the government puts in $970 billion. If we were investing in a normal hedge fund, we would have to pay the managers 2% of the capital and 20% of the profits every year. In this case, the private managers' returns can be thought of as (a) a share of the portfolio's total return proportional to their 3% contribution, plus (b) a "management incentive fee" of (i) 0% of the capital value and (ii) between 0% (if the portfolio returns 3% per year) and 9% (if the portfolio returns 10% per year)--much less than hedge-fund managers typically charge.

Q: Why do we think that the government will get value from its hiring these hedge and pension fund managers to operate this program?

A: They do get 17% of the equity return. 17% of the return on equity on a $1 trillion portfolio that is leveraged 5-1 is incentive.

Q: So the Treasury is doing this to make money?

A: No: making money is a sidelight. The Treasury is doing this to reduce unemployment.

And this morning, this also helpful point:

One way to think about it is that the privates are placing a low market price on distressed securities because they place a high weight on future scenarios in which the prices of distressed securities fall still further: in such scenarios they will really need cash really badly, and the additional losses that would be generated if they further extending their positions and if such scenarios came to past would be extremely painful--institution-destroying, and hence to be avoided at all costs.

The government, however, is the agent of society at large. As such, it is close to risk neutral: only the losses associated with truly great depressions get substantial extra weight. It doesn't care much about bad news that leads to further declines in the values of toxic assets it holds: if worst comes to worst, it can always offset them by printing more money and so generating an inflation that is annoying and painful but not something to be avoided at all costs.

It is this difference between the (extremely low) risk tolerance of private financial intermediaries and the (relatively high) risk tolerance of the government and of society at large that creates the rationale for a program like the Geithner Plan.

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