In truth, in the fairy-tale version of bailing out Lehman, the next domino, A.I.G., would have fallen even harder. If the politics of bailing out Lehman were bad, the politics of bailing out A.I.G. would have been worse. And the systemic risk that a failure of A.I.G. posed was orders of magnitude greater than Lehman's collapse.
No one suggested Lehman deserved to be saved. But the argument has been made that the crisis might have been less severe if it had been saved, because Lehman's failure created remarkable uncertainty in the market as investors became confused about the role of the government and whether it was picking winners and losers.
The failure of Lehman may have allowed the government to do more to prop up the economy than it otherwise could.
The moment a large investor doesn't believe a government will pay back its debt when it says it will, a crisis of confidence could develop. Investors have scant patience for the years of good governance - politically fraught fiscal restructuring, austerity and debt rescheduling - it takes to defuse a sovereign-debt crisis.
Corporate tax reform is nice in theory but tough in practice. It most likely requires lower tax rates and the closing of loopholes, which many companies are sure to fight. And whatever new, lower tax rate is determined, there will probably be another country willing to lower its rate further, creating a sad race to zero.
The blowback against a bailout of Lehman would have been fierce. It is often forgotten, but the prevailing wisdom the day after Lehman fell was that its collapse was a good thing.
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