One question for Sheila Bair

By Felix Salmon
November 12, 2009
Paul Solman is taking questions for Sheila Bair. If I could ask her just one question, it would be about her actions taking over WaMu and wiping out all its senior unsecured debt. That's the wholesale interbank market right there, and in the wake of the WaMu collapse, banks pretty much stopped lending to each other, fearful that at any point Bair could step in and wipe out billions of dollars in assets. The ensuing credit crunch was responsible for trillions of dollars in stock and bond-market losses, and Tim Geithner, for one, was furious at Bair for her precipitous decision.

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Paul Solman is taking questions for Sheila Bair. If I could ask her just one question, it would be about her actions taking over WaMu and wiping out all its senior unsecured debt. That’s the wholesale interbank market right there, and in the wake of the WaMu collapse, banks pretty much stopped lending to each other, fearful that at any point Bair could step in and wipe out billions of dollars in assets. The ensuing credit crunch was responsible for trillions of dollars in stock and bond-market losses, and Tim Geithner, for one, was furious at Bair for her precipitous decision.

So the question is this: was the WaMu intervention a mistake, given the knock-on effects it had on the broader economy? Or, more generally, is there anything Bair would do differently, in hindsight?

Bair’s a political beast, and I suspect she’ll brazen it out, saying that her WaMu decision was the right one. But that would put her in the dubious company of all the other executives who feel they have nothing to apologize for. Is it too much to hope that she might show a glimpse of humanity or fallibility?

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