Warren Buffett’s interview on The Charlie Rose Show on Oct. 1 (watch video) set the tone for the community forum on the economy that took place on Thursday at Columbia Business School. “Once the athlete gets back on the field,” Buffett ’51 said, referring to the U.S. economy, “we can change his diet a little.”

That diet, at least elements of it, was at the core of a panel discussion with Dean Glenn Hubbard and professors Bruce Greenwald, Pierre Collin-Dufresne and Christopher Mayer.

“We still are in a period of substantial credit stringency,” said Hubbard in his opening remarks. “Financial institutions remain undercapitalized for normal activity.” [In a separate column published on Oct. 3 with Princeton's Alan Blinder, Hubbard suggests expanding the FDIC cap.]

Prof. Greenwald followed with a discussion of monetary policy’s role in the financial crisis with a ‘tale of two decades’. In the 1960s the changes in U.S. money supply were linked to subsequent growth in the nominal GDP. In the 1990s, reforms in monetary policy led to very little movement in the nominal GDP, while the money supply was extremely unstable.

“The real heart of this crisis is that the traditional means for recapitalizing these institutions have gone away,” Greenwald said. “The movement of interest rates down to 2% has had no effect, just as monetary policy has had very little effect for a long time. If you’re going to restabilize the economy, you have to have a direct means to recapitalize the banks.”

Greenwald came out in favor of the Treasury’s bailout plan, saying, “If you don’t want to be Japan in the 1990s, just give [the banks] the money. The return in terms of economic stimulus will far outweigh the cost of any financing they get.”

Prof. Dufresne, speaking next, pointed to the location and foundation — low interest rates, high demand, insufficient models, complex vehicles — of the risks in the 1990s as key factors in the current financial crisis. “This made exposure hard to measure,” he said.

Concurring with Greenwald, Dufresne said the solution to the crisis was in bank recapitalization. (watch video)

Prof. Mayer focused on the housing market’s role in the credit crisis. “As we look at the problem in the U.S.,” he said, “we need to think about how to stop the housing crisis.” Mayer and Dean Hubbard have proposed a much-discussed plan that would allow anyone with a primary residence mortgage to refinance at 5.25% on a 30-year-fixed rate loan. (listen to NPR audio about proposal)

Mayer closed his comments considering the coming year: “We’re going to have to re-create a new lending system in the future.”