Archive for October 2010
No Mr. President, Larry Summers did not resolve the financial crisis for a pittance, he just papered over the problem
by William K. Black
Assoc. Professor, Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City; Sr. regulator during S&L debacle
Originally posted October 28, 2010
I PASSED UP THE OBVIOUS TITLE: “HECKAVA JOB, LARRY!” THAT WAS THE MOMENT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that set all Americans cringing. Yes, he really said that Summers “did a heckuva job.” The candidate that was gifted the opportunity to run against the legacy of one of the worst presidents in U.S. history has, as president, used Bush as his role model to continue many disastrous policies. It was strangely fitting that he would channel Bush’s infamous praise (“Heckuva job Brownie”) for the FEMA chief who failed New Orleans so badly in the hurricane.
President Obama understandably wishes to focus attention on the economic disaster he inherited from President Bush. But Jon Stewart’s question to him, which led to the president’s gaffe, correctly asked about the message that Summers’ appointment sent about the administration’s commitment to fundamental change.
Summers had financial red ink on his hands at the time he was appointed. He was Rubin’s chief minion in the successful effort to defeat effective financial regulation and supervision. (Yes, the effort was bipartisan and the Republican leadership shares in the guilt.) Summers was not simply wrong, but also arrogant and brutal, in blocking effective regulation at the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Summers was made rich by Wall Street in one of those sordid consulting arrangements designed to buy influence and reward past and future favors.
President Obama’s appointment of Summers as his chief economic advisor made the administration’s overall response to the crisis predictable. (Robert Kuttner gives a detailed explanation of the policies that Rubin’s protégés championed in his new book, A Presidency in Peril.) The response would follow the disastrous Japanese model that has harmed their economy and damaged their integrity.
The dominant characteristics can be summarized quickly: (1) the government would act for the benefit of the largest financial firms and their CEOs, even when they directed massive frauds, by (2) engineering a cover up of the banks’ losses and the CEO’s misconduct; (3) the administration would use the fictional reports generated to conduct the cover up to declare victory (due to their brilliance); and (4) the same strategy would impair the recovery.
The strategy was also an assault on integrity, the rule of law, and the core precepts of the Obama campaign for president. This is why we warned from the beginning that the cover up could enrage the nation and make him a one-term president.
by Gregory Wyche
Originally posted Oct 26 2010
Why pretending to have money is a bad idea…
IMAGINE AN APARTMENT BUILDING REPRESENTING THE WORLD, and imagine different countries residing in the building, each within their own apartment. Each of the tenants in the building own and produce various things. Imagine then, a long time ago the tenants began trading with each other to obtain things they didn’t have. A few of the tenants were lucky enough to have gold mines. It turned out gold was something everyone in the building liked. As time went by each apartment ended up owning some gold as they traded goods with the tenants that had mines. Gold was rare, ever- lasting and considered beautiful. It was worn by both men and women and used to symbolize intimate relationships.
An agreement was made that rather than having to exchange one good for another (which was cumbersome and inefficient) the building would use gold for medium of trade. This caused gold to become currency. Some apartments had used salt as currency as it was once very rare. Later salt was discovered almost everywhere which caused it to lose its rarity (and so devalued) and it was no longer suitable as currency.
Thousands of years went by and some of the tenants decided to use paper notes that would represent the gold they owned. Soon each tenant used their home printers to make notes and paper money was born. This made trade easier since gold was heavy and hard to carry from one floor to next; after all, the building had not yet installed elevators. The ability to exchange paper money for gold created trust between neighbors and trade increased. After a while the tenants of the world apartments enjoyed a wide variety of goods they purchased from each other with notes back by gold.
From time to time tenants disagreed with each other. If the disagreements were serious games (war) were played to resolve them. The winning apartment received a prize from the looser. Games were expensive to play so many tenants began to avoid them. In the 1960’s two tenants (USSR and USA) played a very expensive game in Southeast Asia’s apartment. The game dragged on and in 1971 some tenants worried about the value of the US money.
by Frederick Sheehan
Posted originally October 21, 2010
On Friday, October 15, 2010, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke delivered a dishonest speech: “Monetary Policy Tools and Objectives in a Low-Inflation Environment.” What follows is not a critique of the talk, since that would be redundant. Please see one of my recent articles “Exploiting Bernanke” (September 21, 2010), which discussed the anticipated speech of October 15, 2010. Also see, “Central Bankers are Paid to Lie – Buy Corn” (October 5, 2010), which showed how Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns fibbed his way through the 1970s. Investors who either believed him or were not adept at translating signals from the real world suffered.
Bernanke’s mendacious speech confirmed my general investment advice in “Central Bankers are Paid to Lie”: “Courses of protection include buying farms (including machinery companies, grain commodity funds, water rights, and desalinization companies), as well as precious metals, mining and drilling companies, and freeze-dried food.” As a guess, Bernanke’s current intention (this will change, and change often) is to add a trillion dollars to the economy. Such a wild, mad experiment has never been attempted before, outside of Argentina, Zimbabwe, and such.
The reason last Friday’s speech could be analyzed three weeks before it was delivered is Bernanke’s predictability. He will do nothing that veers from the course he found convenient for personal advancement three decades ago. He has neither said nor would dare process a thought that deviates from his doctoral thesis.
Even the title of his latest speech is a lie or stupid, as you wish – broadcasting as he did our “Low-Inflation Environment.” Inflation is practically everywhere that counts: food, insurance premiums, utility bills, tuitions. (“Where it counts” does not include the deflation of what really counts: wages, net wealth, house prices. This is why the “inflation vs. deflation” question is false.) Commodity prices keep rising, partially because there is greater demand than supply; partially because we are used to seeing oil and corn quoted in dollars. Producer and consumer prices generally lag commodity prices. The length of the lag differs. Anywhere from three months to one year captures most instances, under normal conditions. (When further depreciation of the dollar against commodities is anticipated, the lag will be compressed.) The dollar has fallen against a basket of currencies by 13% over the past 18 weeks. It is prudent to at least hedge for a contraction of this lag.
Bernanke’s speech was characteristic. He turned logic on its head and ignored the most debilitating consequences of his past actions. The Fed chairman used official government numbers to claim inflation was too low. Homage to government inflation calculations should have, alone, been enough for the media to ignore anything else he said. Of course, he was dutifully quoted and taken at his word.
It was not that long ago when an economist who claimed inflation was too low would have lost credibility. Bernanke stated “that FOMC participants generally judge the mandate-consistent inflation rate to be about 2 percent or a bit below.” The FOMC is the Federal Open Market Committee – the body that has absolute authority to act upon such inverted thinking as 2% inflation being good for the country.
A step back, to 1957: This was a time when academic economists were learning that theories manipulated to satisfy politicians could put themselves in positions of power. Most from this guild never dreamt anyone outside a college classroom noticed their existence. They miscalculated, as is the rule for these humbugs.
Politicians want money and credit to fulfill their constituents’ every wish. A Harvard economist told Congress that the U.S. needed a 2% rate of inflation to defeat communism. Washington loved him.
On August 13, 1957, William McChesney Martin, the Federal Reserve chairman at the time (and not an economist – he had been a Latin scholar at Yale, so understood that shortcuts destroy empires), lectured the Senate Banking Committee on the specific topic of the Federal Reserve “targeting” (Bernanke’s word – not Martin’s) a 2% rate of inflation: “Consumers are encouraged to postpone saving and instead purchase goods which they do not immediately need, and the incentive to strive for efficiency no longer governs business decisions…and speculative influences impair reliance upon business judgment.” Of utmost importance, groups struggle to insulate themselves from the loss of purchasing power, then “fundamental faith in the fairness of our institutions and our government deteriorates.”
The Bernanke Fed has stated its current policy is to chase consumers out of savings and into speculative ventures. (See The 2004 Fed Transcripts: A Methodical, Diabolical Destruction of America’s “Wealth”.) That is exactly the recipe for the Fed to accelerate its impoverishment of the American people. Alan Greenspan, of course, was the master at jumbling a few words to distract attention from this long-running plan to prevent the Fed’s extinction. Bernanke also resorts to nonsense. From his October 15, 2010, speech: a 2% rate of inflation is to “attain… price stability” and to “bring the unemployment rate down significantly.” He is doing exactly the opposite of what he pretends.
George Orwell wrote about “[t]his lunatic world in which opposites are turned into one another.” That was not lunacy for lunacy’s sake, nor is it today.
In 1940, Orwell wrote of World War II: “After 1936, of course, the thing was obvious to anyone except an idiot.” He was not erasing his own past, as was common with many others and is universal among “experts” today. (See the first paragraph of Ben Bernanke’s October 15, 2010, speech.) In 1938, upon returning to England from continental Europe, Orwell had written about the “familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red busses the blue policemen – all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.” The bombs flattened London in 1940.
The British institutions in the 1930s were in the same condition that the Federal Reserve, other government manipulators, the so-called economics profession, and the revered think tanks are in today. Orwell wrote of Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940: “He was merely a stupid old man doing his best according to his very dim lights. It is difficult otherwise to explain the contradictions of his policy, his failure to grasp any of the courses that were open to him. Like the mass of the people, he did not want to pay the price either of peace or of war. ” At another point: “Tossed to and fro between their incomes and their principles, it was impossible that men like Chamberlain should do anything but make the worst of both worlds.”
This is an apt summation of the desiccated American hierarchy today. It is withering into dust.