“”What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. – Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II, William Shakespeare (1564 –1616).
Recent comments, and particularly, who made them, indicate that the idea of Nationalizing the Big Banks may be something that we are going to be living with very shortly: “This idea of nationalizing banks is not comfortable,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “But I think we’ve got so many toxic assets spread throughout the banking and financial community, throughout the world, that we’re going to have to do something that no one ever envisioned a year ago, no one likes. To me, banking and housing are the root cause of this problem. . . . I would not take off the idea of nationalizing the banks.”
We here in America emphatically do not like the word: “Nationalize.” For one thing, it has come to be associated with people like Fidel Castro, whose new, post-Batista (1959- present) government nationalized property owned by some big U.S. corporations, like United Fruit’s lucrative sugar mills in Cuba’s Oriente region, and then added insult to injury by pegging compensation at low valuations, a small fraction of the full, real value, which the corporations themselves had used, in order to keep their taxes low.
Cuba actually offered as compensation bonds at 4.5% interest over twenty years, but then-U.S. ambassador Philip Bonsal, rejected that and held out for immediate compensation that, other than some $1.3 million actually paid, never happened, due to the disruption and then complete cessation of US-Cuba diplomatic relations. Castro kept nationalizing through the 1960’s, and, by 1966-8, every private business, even including lowly street vendors, eventually came to be owned by Cuba, taken out of private hands without compensation.
On July 26, 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser memorably nationalized the Suez Canal Company and was then promptly militarily clobbered by Israel, Great Britain and France, attacking in unison. In Iran, since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, some 80% of all companies based in Iran were nationalized; to date, only some 15% of those 80% have been returned to private ownership.
Mexico nationalized its petroleum industry in 1938, today Pemex, and prompting US Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s oft-quoted statement that proper nationalization of property or businesses requires compensation that should be “prompt, effective and adequate.” In 1962, UN Resolution1803, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, titled: “Permanent Sovereignty over National Resources,” provided that, in the event of nationalization, the owner “shall be paid appropriate compensation in accordance with international law.
In 1971, Britain nationalised (the Brits spell it with an “s,” not a “z,” like we, who are from Across the Pond, do) venerable luxury auto and aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls Royce, then spun off the auto company portion in 1973 and “re-Privatized” again in 1987, leaving RR, a major defence (they do “c” instead of “s,” like we do) manufacturer, a private company again. In a dizzying alphabet soup succession, British Leyland, another British auto manufacturer, was partly nationalised by Britain in 1975 by creation of a new holding company, which then, successively, shortened its name down from “British Leyland Ltd” to “BL Ltd,” and later, “BL plc” in 1978, thus completing a voyage from BLMC, created in the 1968 merger of British Motor Holdings (BMH) and Leyland Motor Corporation (LMC), saving BMH from financial collapse by marrying it with the successful LMC.
Because the cost of nationalization is lower in bad economic times when the values of companies of national importance are depressed, historically, nationalization happens more often during economic crises than during periods when economies are just happily sailing along.
So, it should come as no surprise that the increasing recent talk of Nationalization of major US Banks has conjured up historically negative imagery and other unexpected baggage, perhaps contributing to the Dow’s stumbling and falling from the low 8,000’s to be knocking at the door of the 6,000’s, a place we have not been in a long time. While the Obama Administration has given some signals that it is not rushing to Nationalize the Big Banks, there are also other signals that Nationalization, if done under a more palatable name, might happen to prevent the zombie-ization of those banks, which are Too Big to Fail, but Too Dead to Survive, either, to stop their constant need for more and more Federal funds – AIG, while not a bank, is back asking Congress for more right now. We hear talk of “Pre-Privatization,” and other fanciful names to help us swallow and properly digest this inflammatory concept.
While a national naming contest for new name for Nationalization, conducted like American Idol’s 800-call-in numbers, might be a bit too much, it is certainly time for creativity. Madison Ave whizzes, who used to say they could ‘sell snow to Eskimos,’ need now to do their part and come up with names, be they fanciful and made up out of whole cloth like Ginsu® knives (with Japanese-sounding name: “Ginsu”) or Häagen-Dazs®, known in the advertising and marketing industry as “foreign branding” – actually, completely made-up words made to appear to the American reader like a Scandanavian or Japanese name. Or, the new name could be a federal-sounding, realistic combination like Broke Bank Rescue Agency (“BBRA”) or Short Big Bank Financial Coma (“SBBFS”) or Zombie Bank Adjustment Program (“ZBAP”); we need a new, more acceptable name, with less historical baggage, forming perhaps a catchy acronym, for Nationalization, and we need it now. Any suggestions?