In a word, no.

Or, at least, not much. While it would be nice to believe that Larry Summers had to withdraw from the race to take over the Fed because of his substantial role in creating the global financial collapse, I think it had more to do with his outsized personality. Before you start celebrating his defeat remember that Goldman Sachs still must approve any choice and President Obama may yet choose one of its anointed candidates over Janet Yellin.

For much more on Larry and the Obama administration’s capture by Goldman, read Greg Pallast’s piece here:

The catch-phrase at the Whitehouse since the days of President Clinton is “What would Goldman think?”. Apparently all policy is subjected to the “Goldman test”—is it good for Goldman Sachs? If not, well, you know what—it gets dumped.

So here’s my thoughts on what we should have learned, as we mark the five-year anniversary of the event that sparked the crisis. An interviewer asked me to identify the three most important lessons, which I thought a bit too ambitious, so here are three important lessons.

1. The crisis exposed the dangerous and lawless culture prevailing at the world’s biggest financial institutions. We now know, beyond any doubt, that it was fraud from bottom to top. For example, every single step in the mortgage backed securities business was fraudulent. The mortgage originations were fraudulent—with the originators lying to borrowers about the terms, and then crudely doctoring the paperwork to make the terms even worse after borrowers had signed. The property appraisers falsified the home values. The investment banks misrepresented the quality of the mortgages as they were securitized. The trustees lied to the buyers of the securities about possession of the proper paperwork. At the urging of the industry’s creation, MERS, the banks lost or destroyed the property records, making it impossible for anyone to know who owns what and who owns whom. The mortgage servicers “lost” payments and illegally foreclosed using documents forged by “robo-signers”, wrongly evicting even homeowners who owed no mortgage. Now those homes are being sold in huge blocks to hedge funds at cents on the dollar so that they can be rented back to the former owners now living on the streets. It is not too much to say that foreclosure and dispossession was the desired result of what President Bush had called the “ownership society”: move all wealth to the top 1%. I’ve just given one example—you will find a similar level of criminality in every line of business undertaken by the biggest banks, from manipulating bond markets to setting LIBOR rates, from manipulating commodities prices to front-running stocks and trading on insider information.

2. The crisis demonstrated that real reform can only be undertaken in the depths of a crisis. Once Wall Street had been rescued behind closed doors by the US Fed and Treasury (it took $29 trillion!), there was no hope of reform. The biggest institutions just got bigger. They are back to doing the same things they were doing in 2007. Even the very weak Dodd-Frank reforms will never be implemented—Wall Street put together armies to delay, water-down, and eventually prevent implementation of any changes that would constrain the financial practices that caused the crisis. Franklin Roosevelt did it the right way in the 1930s: declare a banking “holiday”, demand resignations from all top management, and refuse to allow banks to open until they had a plan that would lead to solvency. Almost all the New Deal financial sector reforms were enacted in the heat of the crisis. The important lesson that should have been learned: in the next crisis, we cannot let the Fed and Treasury meet behind closed doors to rescue the “vampire squids” that are destroying the economy. We must drive the stake through their hearts when they are weakest.

3. The crisis brought into public view the longer term trend toward “financialization” of the entire economy. The FIRE sector gets 40% of corporate profits and 20% of value added. That is, quite simply, crazy. Everything has become financialized—from college education (student loans are a trillion dollars) to homes, healthcare (Obamacare makes this worse), and even death (so-called death settlements and peasant insurance in which employers bet that workers will die early). Wall Street has financialized energy and even crops. It has turned worker’s pensions against them, by using their own retirement funds to bid up the price of gasoline at the pump and bread at the grocery store. Just wait until they use pension funds to drive up the price of water at the meter!

In a very important sense it is wrong to label what happened following Lehman’s bust a crisis. Life at the top has improved tremendously since 2007, as high unemployment has softened labor even as income and wealth gushed toward the top 1%.

Of course, for the bottom 99% it is a crisis, but not a financial crisis. And it did not begin in 2007, but rather in the early 1970s. It is a long-term jobs crisis. It is a long-term wage crisis. It is a long-term education, housing, and healthcare crisis, as necessities are priced beyond the reach of most workers.

So what needs to be done?

Where to begin? Over the medium term I’m pessimistic because I do not think much can be done until Wall Street crashes and we shut down the “dirty dozen” biggest global financial institutions. They will prevent any substantial reform. We need to downsize finance by two-thirds or three-quarters or even nine-tenths. Obviously, that cannot happen until the next crash. I’m reasonably optimistic that will happen in the not too distant future.

But when real economic reform becomes possible, what do we need? First, jobs. We cannot rely on the private sector to produce them. Jobless growth is the future, so we cannot rely on growth to produce the needed jobs. Government has got to get involved. Fortunately, there’s much that needs to be done—public infrastructure, ramping up education and healthcare, environmental restoration, aged care, and improvement of public spaces. We will need a permanent Job Guarantee (or Employer of Last Resort) program to ensure that all who want to work can participate. Second, and related to the first, we need decent wages—which means substantial increases for the bottom two or three quintiles. Again, this cannot be accomplished by relying on the private sector, which will always engage in “race to the bottom” dynamics. The government must play a role—by setting high standards for minimum wages, benefits, and working conditions. This is actually easy to do once the JG/ELR program is in place as its compensation package will become the de facto minimum.

We are all shocked, SHOCKED! that Washington has not gone after Wall Street’s crooks. Actually it isn’t shocking at all. The Wall Street foxes are all spread throughout the Obama administration, running Treasury and the New York Fed and heavily represented in every agency that has any supervisory power over Wall Street. So long as Wall Street sucks up 40% of corporate profits, that is where all the money is, and Washington runs on money. With those foxes guarding the henhouse, you’d have to be a fool to believe that the Obama administration would go after any CEOs of the biggest banks.



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