Paul Krugman has some questions:
institutions that want to “get bad assets off their balance sheets” can
do that any time they like, by writing those assets down to zero – or
by selling them at whatever price they can. If we create a new
institution to take over those assets, the $700 billion question is, at what price? And I still haven’t seen anything that explains how the price will be determined.
I suspect, though I’m not certain, that policymakers are once more
coming around to the view that mortgage-backed securities are being
systematically underpriced. But do we really know this? And how are we
going to ensure that this doesn’t end up being a huge giveaway to
Here is more detail on various plans. I see it so: If the assets are undervalued by the market, buying them up is an OK deal. Presumably the price would be determined by a reverse auction, with hard-to-track asset heterogeneity introducing some arbitrariness into the resulting prices. If these assets are not undervalued by the market, and indeed they really are worth so little, our government wishes to find a not-fully-transparent way to give financial firms greater value, also known as "huge giveaway."
Right now it seems to boil down to the original TARP idea or nationalization, take your pick. You are more likely to favor nationalization if you think that governments can run things well, if you feel there is justice in government having "upside" on the deal, and if you are keen to spend the TARP money on other programs instead.