Archive for the ‘Alan Greenspan’ tag
You guys, I never realized how hilarious Alan Greenspan is…
Today’s competitive markets, whether we seek to recognise it or not, are driven by an international version of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” that is unredeemably opaque. With notably rare exceptions (2008, for example), the global “invisible hand” has created relatively stable exchange rates, interest rates, prices, and wage rates.
Yeah, except for that incident in 2008 where the word’s economy plunged from the heavens like a fiery meteor, everything has been awesome. Oh, and apart from all those other times that happen around “every three years,” according to Larry Summers.
Over the past 20 years major financial disruptions have taken place roughly every three years, starting with the 1987 stock market crash; the Savings & Loans collapse and credit crunch of the early 1990s; the 1994 Mexican crisis; the Asian financial crises of 1997 with the Russian and Long-Term Capital Management events of 1998; the bursting of the technology bubble in 2000; the potential disruptions of the payments system after the events of September 11 2001 and the deflationary scare in the credit markets in 2002 after the collapse of Enron.
And I suppose wages have indeed been stable if by “stable” Alan means stagnant inside the United States for over thirty years. Also, too, international prices are stable unless you’re a poor brown person looking to buy bread, in which case stab your neighbor and try to steal his flour because the invisible hand of the market is coming to crush you.
Alan must have temporarily blacked out and forgotten he already confessed back in 2008 that he placed too much faith in the ability of markets to correct themselves, and that his belief in deregulation had been shaken. Somewhere between 2008 and 2011, however, the markets went back to being God’s perfect tools.
Of course, I think Alan means the invisible hand has created relative stability for a small clan of plutocrats while everyone else throws elbows to secure the crumbs left behind.
A beautiful contrast (via Matt Yglesias)
Time cover circa 1999
Time cover for May 24, 2010
I’d say the mood of the country has significantly shifted, wouldn’t you agree? There should be a caption under this new photo that reads, “No, it’s fine. We’ll clean up your shit.”
The ladies featured on this new cover are (from left-to-right) TARP Overseer Elizabeth Warren, SEC Chief Mary Schapiro, and FDIC Chair Sheila Bair. They are — as the title suggests — the sheriffs charged with enforcing and regulating the Wild West landscape of the financial world.
Regulation — at least the idea of controlling the unruly practices of Wall Street — is increasingly popular these days. But the concept of reining in renegade corporate behemoths isn’t limited to derivatives trading.
Today, the former Fed chairman told George Stephanopoulos that the U.S. economy was “getting close” to the point where it would stop losing jobs. Fantastic, but I have a couple questions: Why is Alan Greenspan still being asked about the economy, and what does it take, exactly, to become a discredited figure in this country? If epically failing as Greenspan has failed doesn’t get him permanently banned from the Sunday morning talk shows, what does he need to do in order for people to stop asking his advice?
When Greenspan took over at the Fed in 1987, the total outstanding US home mortgages stood at just $1.82 trillion. During subsequent years, that figure increased exponentially. By 1999, the total outstanding mortgages in the US was $4.45 trillion. By 2004, it rose to $7.56 trillion, and by 2005, the home mortgage debt was $9.1 trillion. Some called this trend a “bubble,” but not good ole’ Alan.
Comrade Greenspan wants us to seize the economy’s commanding heights.
O.K., not exactly. What Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman — and a staunch defender of free markets — actually said was, “It may be necessary to temporarily nationalize some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring.” I agree.
The case for nationalization rests on three observations.
First, some major banks are dangerously close to the edge — in fact, they would have failed already if investors didn’t expect the government to rescue them if necessary.
Second, banks must be rescued. The collapse of Lehman Brothers almost destroyed the world financial system, and we can’t risk letting much bigger institutions like Citigroup or Bank of America implode.
Third, while banks must be rescued, the U.S. government can’t afford, fiscally or politically, to bestow huge gifts on bank shareholders.
Let’s be concrete here. There’s a reasonable chance — not a certainty — that Citi and BofA, together, will lose hundreds of billions over the next few years. And their capital, the excess of their assets over their liabilities, isn’t remotely large enough to cover those potential losses.
Arguably, the only reason they haven’t already failed is that the government is acting as a backstop, implicitly guaranteeing their obligations. But they’re zombie banks, unable to supply the credit the economy needs.
To end their zombiehood the banks need more capital. But they can’t raise more capital from private investors. So the government has to supply the necessary funds.
But here’s the thing: the funds needed to bring these banks fully back to life would greatly exceed what they’re currently worth. Citi and BofA have a combined market value of less than $30 billion, and even that value is mainly if not entirely based on the hope that stockholders will get a piece of a government handout. And if it’s basically putting up all the money, the government should get ownership in return.
Still, isn’t nationalization un-American? No, it’s as American as apple pie.
Lately the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has been seizing banks it deems insolvent at the rate of about two a week. When the F.D.I.C. seizes a bank, it takes over the bank’s bad assets, pays off some of its debt, and resells the cleaned-up institution to private investors. And that’s exactly what advocates of temporary nationalization want to see happen, not just to the small banks the F.D.I.C. has been seizing, but to major banks that are similarly insolvent.
The real question is why the Obama administration keeps coming up with proposals that sound like possible alternatives to nationalization, but turn out to involve huge handouts to bank stockholders.
For example, the administration initially floated the idea of offering banks guarantees against losses on troubled assets. This would have been a great deal for bank stockholders, not so much for the rest of us: heads they win, tails taxpayers lose.
Now the administration is talking about a “public-private partnership” to buy troubled assets from the banks, with the government lending money to private investors for that purpose. This would offer investors a one-way bet: if the assets rise in price, investors win; if they fall substantially, investors walk away and leave the government holding the bag. Again, heads they win, tails we lose.
Why not just go ahead and nationalize? Remember, the longer we live with zombie banks, the harder it will be to end the economic crisis.
How would nationalization take place? All the administration has to do is take its own planned “stress test” for major banks seriously, and not hide the results when a bank fails the test, making a takeover necessary. Yes, the whole thing would have a Claude Rains feel to it, as a government that has been propping up banks for months declares itself shocked, shocked at the miserable state of their balance sheets. But that’s O.K.
And once again, long-term government ownership isn’t the goal: like the small banks seized by the F.D.I.C. every week, major banks would be returned to private control as soon as possible. The finance blog Calculated Risk suggests that instead of calling the process nationalization, we should call it “preprivatization.”
The Obama administration, says Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, believes “that a privately held banking system is the correct way to go.” So do we all. But what we have now isn’t private enterprise, it’s lemon socialism: banks get the upside but taxpayers bear the risks. And it’s perpetuating zombie banks, blocking economic recovery.
What we want is a system in which banks own the downs as well as the ups. And the road to that system runs through nationalization.
The US government may have to nationalise some banks on a temporary basis to fix the financial system and restore the flow of credit, Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, has told the Financial Times.
In an interview, Mr Greenspan, who for decades was regarded as the high priest of laisser-faire capitalism, said nationalisation could be the least bad option left for policymakers.
”It may be necessary to temporarily nationalise some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring,” he said. “I understand that once in a hundred years this is what you do.”
Mr Greenspan’s comments capped a frenetic day in which policymakers across the political spectrum appeared to be moving towards accepting some form of bank nationalisation.
“We should be focusing on what works,” Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, told the FT. “We cannot keep pouring good money after bad.” He added, “If nationalisation is what works, then we should do it.”
Speaking to the FT ahead of a speech to the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday, Mr Greenspan said that “in some cases, the least bad solution is for the government to take temporary control” of troubled banks either through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or some other mechanism.
The former Fed chairman said temporary government ownership would ”allow the government to transfer toxic assets to a bad bank without the problem of how to price them.”
But he cautioned that holders of senior debt – bonds that would be paid off before other claims – might have to be protected even in the event of nationalisation.
”You would have to be very careful about imposing any loss on senior creditors of any bank taken under government control because it could impact the senior debt of all other banks,” he said. “This is a credit crisis and it is essential to preserve an anchor for the financing of the system. That anchor is the senior debt.”
Mr Greenspan’s comments came as President Barack Obama signed into law the $787bn fiscal stimulus in Denver, Colorado. Mr Obama will announce on Wednesday a$50bn programme for home foreclosure relief in Phoenix, Arizona. Meanwhile, the White House was working last night on the latest phase of the bailout for two of the big three US carmakers.
In his speech after signing the stimulus, which he called the “most sweeping recovery package in our history”, Mr Obama set out a vertiginous timetable of federal decisions in the coming weeks that included fixing the US banking system, submission next week of the 2009 budget and a bipartisan White House meeting to address longer-term fiscal discipline.
“We need to end a culture where we ignore problems until they become full-blown crises,” said Mr Obama. “Today does not mark the end of our economic troubles… but it does mark the beginning of the end.”