A fascinating Gallup poll has been circulating recently that demonstrates the power of language in times of crisis.
In one formulation, pollsters posed the following question:
Do you favor or oppose the federal government temporarily taking over major U.S. banks in danger of failing in an attempt to stabilize them?
Of those who responded, 54% were in favor, while 44% were opposed. During the same period in late February, the same question was posed to a separate group, with the term "nationalizing" swapped in for "taking over." Those favoring such a solution dropped to 37%, while opposition shot up to 57%.
The word "nationalization" clearly carries a lot of baggage. However, there is a consensus forming across a fairly broad political spectrum -- from Paul Krugman to James Baker and Alan Greenspan -- that temporary nationalization of problem banks like Bank of America
That, or they get carved up and tucked into money-center banks like JPMorgan Chase
I think everyone agrees that the government needs to get in and out as quickly as possible. There can be no Glorious People's Bank of Apple Pie or anything like that. If done right, I agree with economist Greg Mankiw that nationalization is the wrong word for this process.
So, to the folks in Washington: Let's avoid "nationalization," because it's just as misleading as the term "bankruptcy" in describing the sort of recapitalization these problem banks require. Call it restructuring, pre-privatization, dezombification -- I don't care. Just get on with it.
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