Honohan-Supported-Guarantee Talking Point Still Going Strong

This comment was published in irisheconomy.ie

By Karl Whelan
October 16th, 2010
Stephen Collins writes in today’s Irish Times that “Fine Gael also had the courage to support the bank guarantee which, despite the Anglo shambles, was in principle the right thing to do as the governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, has repeatedly said.”

The guarantee was perhaps the most momentous policy decision in the history of the state. Unfortunately, the standard of commentary on this decision from prominent media columnists has, in general, been pretty lamentable. Here, Mr. Collins repeats a talking point that has been rolled out repeatedly by government TDs. Well, repetition of a talking point doesn’t make it true.
As I’ve noted here and elsewhere, there is a world of difference between Honohan’s support for a guarantee and the idea that he supported the guarantee that was actually put in place.
And again contrary to a widely repeated talking point, Honohan’s primary objection to the form of the guarantee was not the inclusion of subordinated debt but rather the inclusion of almost all existing long-term bonds. He argued that this inclusion “complicated eventual loss allocation and resolution options” and that it “pre-judged that all losses in any bank becoming insolvent during the guarantee period – beyond those absorbed by some of the providers of capital – would fall on the State.” In other words, it worsened the cost of what Collins calls “the Anglo shambles.”
These comments were consistent with Honohan’s previously-expressed opinions on this issue, as shown for example in this article published in the Economic and Social Review in 2009, published a few months before he was appointed Governor.
No public indication has been given that the authorities gave serious consideration to less systemically scene-shifting – and less costly – solutions. For example, they might have provided specific state guarantees for new borrowings or injections of preference or ordinary shares – approaches that were widely adopted across Europe and the US in the following weeks.
Footnote 15, placed after the word “costly” in the above paragraph, reads as follows:
Blanket guarantees are among the “accommodating” approaches to crisis policy shown by Honohan and Klingebiel (2003) to have added considerably to the fiscal costs of banking crises around the world.
The working paper version of this 2003 publication is available here.
We also know now from the documents released by the PAC, that the form of the guarantee that was given was not recommended by the government’s own advisors Merrill Lynch, nor is there evidence that senior civil servants were recommending this approach either. So, at this point, the last refuge for those who want to argue that the government’s approach on September 30 was the right decision is this misleading Honohan-supports-it talking point.
For what it’s worth, also, I think one could argue just as strongly that it was Labour who showed more courage in objecting to the guarantee: Indeed, to this day, Labour are still getting flak from government politicians and commentators like Collins for failing to fall in line with the consensus to support the guarantee. Moreover, my understanding of Fine Gael’s position at this point is that they consider themselves to have been essentially misled by the government into supporting the guarantee.