Posts tagged with 'Nicholas von Hoffman'
In this week’s Audit, we’re examinig Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s thoroughly uninspiring bank bailout plan, which fails on almost every level. What’s more, some of the most insightful (and stinging) critiques of the proposal are coming from progressive media.
Robert Kuttner offers a strong analysis of Geithner’s strategy to salvage the banking industry in The American Prospect, noting that Geithner is explicitly avoiding the simplest and cheapest solution in favor of propping up the current Wall Street regime. The current plan is designed to support a financial architecture that has proven completely ineffective in maintaining the nation’s basic economic functions.
Geithner has thus far refused to nationalize the big, insolvent U.S. banks and give taxpayers ownership authority in exchange for their financial assistance. Instead, the new Treasury Secretary’s proposal devotes $1 trillion to writing insurance policies on bad mortgage assets to encourage private companies to buy those assets from troubled financial firms. This complicated strategy is designed to reduce the amount of money the government will have to pay to save the financial sector by bringing private enterprise into the bailout. However, the sheer convolutedness of the plan makes it much less efficient than temporary nationalization would be. Instead of simply putting a troubled bank’s balance sheet in order, the government now has to make sure hedge funds and private equity companies can profit from the move. The end result? Showering more taxpayer dollars on Wall Street.
As Matthew Rothschild highlights in The Progressive, the government’s current commitments to banks exceed the stock market values of those banks. Citigroup has received over $50 billion in direct capital injections, plus insurance on $300 billion worth of assets, but the company could have been purchased outright for well under $20 billion since October, 2008.
The worst part, Kuttner notes, is Geithner’s seeming determination to rehabilitate the failed loan securitization network, in which loans are packaged into securities and sold to various investors. Loan securitization encouraged excessive risk-taking on Wall Street, spawned millions of predatory mortgages and turned the simple process of buying a home into an absurd game of hot-potato amongst speculators. The loan securitization system needs to be carefully dismantled, not restored. “Geithner, using public funds, hopes to restart the engine of loan securitization,” Kuttner writes. “In effect, he wants to rebuild the very model that caused the crash.”
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argues that much of the resistance to nationalizing the nation’s largest banks is based on a misunderstanding about how the nationalization process works. In an illuminating interview with Talking Points Memo, Stiglitz states that banks fail all the time and are placed into government hands to be disposed of. Lately, a handful of banks have failed every week.
“Banks have failed over and over again in the history of America, in the history of capitalism,” Stiglitz says. “To mention some recent examples, Washington Mutual went into bankruptcy, a number of banks went into bankruptcy . . . . It didn’t lead to a fundamentally systemic problem.”
When this happens, the government either takes the bank over for a short period of time and sells it to another bank, or liquidates the failed bank’s assets. The nationalization solution that progressive economists are pushing is simply the first approach. The nationalized bank is even kept open while its books are put in order, and when its affairs are straightened out, the government sells the company back out into the marketplace. The FDIC has decades of experience with this kind of operation.
Merely patching up the old economic model will not only fail to loosen Wall Street’s grip on the economy, it will also turn a blind eye to the severe ecological challenges we face. As the authors of Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, Peter Brown and Geoff Garver, write in a blog for The Huffington Post, unlimited growth and production is nonsensical in the context of finite natural resources. Taking the environmental crisis seriously will mean not only investing in technology to fend off catastrophe, but cultivating a culture that places value on sustainable lifestyles.
Geithner offered a few vague comments about averting foreclosures in his bailout roll-out last Tuesday, but the glacial pace of government-sponsored foreclosure relief may mean that it’s time for more direct action. Last month, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, called for evicted home-owners to exercise squatter’s rights and refuse to leave their homes.
In the Nation, Nicholas Von Hoffman proposes organizing community groups to take a stand and block banks from repossessing homes. While the current economic crisis looks much like the early days of the Great Depression, those hit hardest by today’s downturn have a few more tools to weild—most notably, the Internet. If the Treasury Department will not save the people from Wall Street, the people can, and should, save themselves.
The situation is already dire. As James Ridgeway writes for Mother Jones, today’s sky-high jobless statistics mask the actual number of people enduring tough times. While the official unemployment rate is at 7.6%, far more people who have given up looking for a new job or are stuck in part-time positions. If those people are included in the metric, the rate soars to 13.9%.
Geithner is scheduled to release more details on his bank bailout on Wednesday. Let’s hope the second time is the charm. Keep your eyes on the Weekly Audit for independent media’s response.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit StimulusPlan.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.
As Congress finally winds down what House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., refers to as “the session that will not die,” most of us have already contracted cases of outrage exhaustion from the barrage of Wall Street-related absurdities that the government has embroiled itself in over the past year.
But do not despair! David Sirota penned two pieces this week vindicating progressive critics of the current regime, one for Salon.com and another for the Campaign for America’s Future, detailing how recent reports from government agencies themselves have revealed the administration’s utter failure to craft a responsible financial rescue package. With the incompetence obvious to everyone, Sirota hopes that, “Maybe, just maybe, our humiliated rulers will start listening,” noting that progressives were right all along about meaningless CEO pay limits and oversight mechanisms in the $700 billion bailout, and overblown rhetoric from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
The oratorical frenzy surrounding too-big-to-fail Wall Street titans and last-ditch government bailouts has also made it easy to forget that the financial sector actually does desperately need some downsizing, as Joshua Holland reports for AlterNet.
Not only is the financial sector burdened with mountains of worthless debt instruments, it has created broader economic inefficiencies over the past decade by gobbling up a disproportionate share of the total economy. Holland presents a host of frightening statistics about the conditions leading up to the current recession, noting an 11% surge in poverty between 2000 and 2007, lower median household incomes and sluggish job growth. Almost everybody except the financiers, it seems, was hurting, and the global economy will not recover from its economic slide until the financial sector owns up to the losses inherent in its chimerical expansion.
But financial policy failures have not been limited to bad rulemaking and pro-Wall Street philosophy. Even basic anti-fraud protections that have been on the books since the 1930s are not being enforced effectively, as evidenced by the massive fraud scheme allegedly perpetrated by fund manager Bernard Madoff. The Securities and Exchange Commission received several warnings about Madoff’s business practices dating back to at least 1999, according to The Wall Street Journal, but chose to ignore them until Madoff’s system finally collapsed on itself this fall. As Truthdig’s Ear to the Ground Blog points out, fallout from the scandal is so broad that many of those hit by the scheme “might not know yet that they’re broke.”
Over at The Nation, Nicholas von Hoffman notes how the risky investment practices that have led investment bankers to the public coffers this year have also dealt a massive blow to funding for U.S. colleges and universities. Harvard University has officially lost $8 billion of its endowment since June, while the University of Virginia—whose president, John Casteen, serves on the board of directors at the collapsed banking giant Wachovia—has hemorrhaged $1 billion. Students obviously did not demand that these funds be spent recklessly, but students will ultimately pay the price.
Of course, there’s another bailout going on, unless Senate Republicans have their way. The faltering Detroit automobile industry is seeking about $14 billion in government funds, or slightly less than 10% of what taxpayers have already poured into insurance icon AIG, which employs few blue-collar workers and mostly produces useless debt insurance for even more useless debt circulating through Wall Street.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., led a Republican attack on auto unions, refusing to back a Detroit rescue package last week unless union laborers take a major pay cut. But the assault on the working class seems a little misguided, given the willingness of Congress to hurl $700 billion at U.S. banks without any strings on executive compensation.
“Citigroup’s CEO is being paid $216 million this year, yet Corker made no demand that he take a whack in pay,” Jim Hightower writes, even though Citi alone has accepted bailout funds worth over three times what the entire auto bailout would cost.
The chief difference between Detroit’s labor costs and those of its Japan-headquartered competitors is several decades of built-up pension plans. But as Hilzoy writes in a post for The Washington Monthly that the package was already so acquiescent to Republican demands that no serious conservative negotiators would have demanded further concessions.
Republicans do not have a monopoly on economic insanity. Over at The American Prospect, Ezra Klein highlights a troubling quote from Larry Summers, who will be the head economic advisor in Barack Obama’s White House next year. The passage appears in the new book Creative Capitalism, edited by lefty journalist Michael Kinsley:
“As for [Milton] Friedman — I’m not so sure he looks bad,” Summers says. “What is most screwed up today? GSEs, Citibank, regional banks. What is most regulated? Same list. What is least screwed up? Hedge funds and the like. What is least regulated?”
Summers’ “most screwed up” list only holds up if you exclude unregulated firms who were so completely decimated over the past year that they have become extinct. There are no major independent Wall Street investment banks anymore. Lehman Brothers died, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch sold to major commercial banks in emergency mergers and both Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley converted to commercial banks to avoid collapse. No regulator has oversight of the entire investment banking corporate structure, and the mega i-banks have simply disappeared.
Same goes for the private subprime mortgage firms like Ameriquest and NovaStar. Wondering why those logos disappeared from NASCAR hoods about a year ago? Those subprime lenders were completely unregulated and they all went bankrupt.
Sadly, the economy is well past the point where government action could fend off a severe recession. At this point, it’s all damage control. The downturn is already hitting demand so hard that even recycling programs are on the ropes, as Air America Media’s Ron Kuby discusses in a radio interview with recycling organizer Meghan McCutcheon. Cash-strapped producers are well aware of consumer pocketbook pressures, and are bunkering down to ride out the recession with as few costs as possible—including cuts in raw materials, recycled or otherwise.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit Economy.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on immigration, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.