Posts Tagged ‘economy’

The New Republic has a fascinating article on the dynamics between Lawrence Summers and Tim Geithner, the two principal players of Obama’s economic team. An excerpt:

It’s only natural that a man who was hailed as one of his generation’s great academic minds by age 30 and who’d become Treasury secretary by 45 would have strong opinions on a thick menu of issues. Or, for that matter, that he’d have an urge to share them. In the years before he joined the Obama administration, Summers showcased his thinking on practically every economic ailment facing the country in a monthly Financial Times column. He is, in other words, not so much a bureaucratic imperialist as a natural-born economist, with all that implies about argumentative style.

[…] Having to share territory with the inadvertently expansionist Summers could easily lead to a demoralizing trench war. But that won’t be the case with Geithner. He’s a man who made a career not only of exerting subtle bureaucratic influence, but of happily co-existing with Summers himself. (The two are good friends.) Even during the tax flap’s most fevered moment–a Maureen Dowd column titled “Tim Geithner! Why Are Rich People So Cheap?” comes to mind–Geithner remained an internal force. At the time, Politico suggested Summers had horned in on the bank bailout–ostensibly Treasury’s portfolio–noting that it was his name, not Geithner’s, that appeared on a letter to Congress about the second $350 billion installment. But, while Summers did affix his name to the letter, Geithner and his staff actually authored it. Administration officials simply felt Summers was the more appropriate public face until Geithner could be confirmed.

Read the whole thing.

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Having a Wall Street boyfriend isn’t as attractive when there is a financial crisis.

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Arianna Huffington’s latest article condemning laissez-faire as a failed philosophy hits all the right lefty notes. Parts of it almost seem lifted from Obama’s election rhetoric. Not wholly unexpected from a woman who once proclaimed that she only texts three people: her two teenage children and Barack Obama.

Actually, Huffington’s piece is so bad that it almost reads like a self-parody. From her depiction of Bush — a man who oversaw the biggest regulatory expansion since Nixon — as the ultimate free market champion to her refusal to even attempt any kind of analysis,  Huffington reveals herself, like so many others, as a person blinded by her love for the echo chamber she lives in. Naomi Klein’s terrible book which conveniently lumped together all her enemies into an undefinable mass that she could pummel still made a basic, incontrovertible point — times of crisis give those in power an opportunity to extend their sway. Even the Times article Huffington so approvingly links to contains some redeeming features — interesting quotes, lots of relevant history, a (correct) indictment of Bush’s disastrous home-ownership-at-all-costs policy — that make it a good read. Articles by Krugman and Stiglitz, despite their obvious bias often bordering on intellectual dishonesty, usually contain one or two nuggets of truth. Huffington’s piece, full of huffy moralizing and utter lack of intellectual depth, makes you wonder why you just gave up two minutes of your life.

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In this post, I’ll defend a thesis that my libertarian friends will probably disagree strongly with — that the economic panic culminating in the $700 billion bailout isn’t all that bad for capitalist and libertarian ideals in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong. The bailout is a monstrosity, a tremendous allocation of power to competent but unaccountable (and unelected) officials like Paulson and Bernanke and will add an unbelievable $2500 per person to the national debt. It will tax the many and reward the few. It will use the power of the state to reward businesses that ought to fail and will nationalise a significant chunk of the banking sector. As a measure, the whole thing is as unlibertarian as it gets.

But my point is this: it could have been worse. Under the current circumstances, the bailout might be one of the better things that may have happened. Here’s why:

1. Capitalism, especially of the kind that we have currently, invariably produces booms and busts. Some businesses will fail and others will grow. In the long run, it is one of the best concepts man has ever come up with. Unfortunately, voters are more impatient than that. It is a fact that with the economic turmoil of the last week and with the housing market yet to bottom out, a diving stock market would bleaken the economic outlook of the country to the extent that a new administration, likely a democratic one, would be emboldened to enact far worse regulation that the bailout itself. Think of a socialistic counterpart of ‘disaster capitalism’. The bailout will reduce the chances of that happening.

2. Yes, there were other ways the government could have intervened instead of buying bad assets, such as partial debt forgiveness or infusion of capital. However the proposed prescription has the advantage of creating a strong backlash from the electorate about their tax money being used directly to rescue the fat cats of Wall Street. There is some evidence that this is already happening. In the long run, this sentiment may develop into a general mood against government intervention and corporate subsidy. And that would be a really good thing.

3. There have been many comparisons made between the present bail-out and the massive government intervention almost eighty years ago which ended up prolonging the Great Depression. However, such comparisons miss a crucial point. The fall of the money supply that happened then under the aegis of the Federal Reserve will not happen today. As Bernanke himself said in 2002, “Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”

4. The plan is a vague one. It is not clear that Paulson actually intends to spend the entire $700 billion, nor is it clear how the government will price these bad assets. The liberal economist Paul Krugman suspects that the whole thing “looks like an attempt to restore confidence in the financial system” rather than go to the root of the problem. From a libertarian perspective, this is not such a bad thing. Remember that Paulson and Bernanke, the architects of the bailout, are no socialists. I am hopeful that their vision of the plan centers not around massive spending but in giving investors enough confidence and the banks enough time so that they can recover. (As Paulson himself has remarked in the past, “If you’ve got a bazooka, and people know you’ve got it, you may not have to take it out.”) If the government does buy mortgage assets, I hope that they do so at a price that transfers a signicant burden upon those who made these bad decisions.

5. The events of the last week essentially kills the Glass Steagall Act, one of the lasting vestiges of Roosevelt’s policies. Essentially, that act separated the commercial and investment banking sectors, which was unfortunate because unified banking is now recognized to be much safer. The act was basically repealed during the Clinton era but BOA’s acquisition of Merrill last week was the final nail in the coffin. We are now back to the situation of the 1920s, when commercial banks could plunge into the market, and that’s a good thing.

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