The Government should allow every distressed bank to go bankrupt and set up a fresh banking system under temporary state control rather than cripple the country by propping up a corrupt edifice, according to Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist.
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Davos
Last Updated: 8:29AM GMT 02 Feb 2009
Let banks fail, says Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz
Professor Stiglitz, the former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told The Daily Telegraph that Britain should let the banks default on their vast foreign operations and start afresh with new set of healthy banks.
"The UK has been hit hard because the banks took on enormously large liabilities in foreign currencies. Should the British taxpayers have to lower their standard of living for 20 years to pay off mistakes that benefited a small elite?" he said.
"There is an argument for letting the banks go bust. It may cause turmoil but it will be a cheaper way to deal with this in the end. The British Parliament never offered a blanket guarantee for all liabilities and derivative positions of these banks," he said.
Mr Stiglitz said the Government should underwrite all deposits to protect the UK's domestic credit system and safeguard money markets that lubricate lending. It should use the skeletons of the old banks to build a healthier structure.
"The new banks will be more credible once they no longer have these liabilities on their back."
Mr Stiglitz said the City of London would survive the shock of such a default because it would uphold the principle of free market responsibility. "Counter-parties entered into voluntary agreements with the banks and they must accept the consequences," he said.
Such a drastic course of action would be fraught with difficulties and risks, however. It would leave healthy banks in an untenable position since they would have to compete for funds in the markets with state-run entities.
Mr Stiglitz's radical proposal is a "Chapter 11" scheme for households to allow them to bring their debts under control without having to go into bankruptcy. "Families matter just as much as firms. The US government can borrow at 1pc so why can't it lend directly to poor people for mortgages at 4pc. ," he said.