It’s a solution of apparent Alexandrian elegance and simplicity: Empower America’s cash-strapped states to slice cleanly through a strangling knot of debilitating debt and government union cronyism by letting them file for bankruptcy. Long-term liabilities could be restructured, unaffordable labor contracts rewritten, fiscal health restored. No federal bailouts necessary.
This intriguing idea quickened last November when former House speaker Newt Gingrich gave it an animating shoutout during a speech at a Dallas think tank. That was followed by a detailed explanation in this magazine by David Skeel, a corporate law professor and bankruptcy expert at the University of Pennsylvania (“Give States a Way to Go Bankrupt,” November 29, 2010). As conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill began cooking up legislation to change the federal bankruptcy code, the concept exploded across the Internet—not to mention in Wall Street research departments.