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Among all the green shoots, this one's a mouthful

The Monitor's language columnist muses on a new phrase from the world of finance: macroprudential oversight.

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Newsweek observed the other day how the continuing economic crisis has spurred a boom in strategic rephrasing. Someone may have suggested to US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that "toxic assets" is a contradiction in terms; he's now referring to the bad loans on banks' books as "legacy assets."

And last month he observed that he may oust the executives of certain banks needing "exceptional assistance," i.e., a bailout. He may assist them all the way to the exit.

The language seems to be leafing out in all manner of euphemism this spring. "Green shoots" of the economy, indeed.

The Newsweek item touched on another buzz phrase: macroprudential oversight. This one is less like a tender green shoot. It's more like an awkward asparagus spear too well cooked to snap off into neat bites when it's impaled on your fork. So you end up getting the whole thing into your mouth at once. It's a real mouthful, in other words.

And just what does it mean? Here's how Kirk Shinkle of US News describes it in a recent post on his blog, The Ticker: "It's a system-wide, holistic approach to monitoring the financial sector, and a plan that would undoubtedly mean aggressive new international regulation of the entire global finance system."

The world's 20 most significant economies signed on to the concept last month, but you're forgiven if you missed it. In the United States, many observers decry the "fragmentation" of economic regulation. US Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, wants an entity charged with assessing "systemic risk." Other observers have other worries. They want more "countercyclicality" – mechanisms to hit the brakes during booms and hit the gas when things are going too slowly. But others yet call macroprudentialoversight an unworkable scheme for "world government."


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