Friday, April 10, 2009
You Know Things Are Bad When Even Newsweek Is Slamming the Obama Administration for Caving in to the Financial Status Quo
You know things are bad when even one of the most mainstream publications - Newsweek - is slamming the Obama administration for caving to the financial status quo, and sounding the same themes that I and other "alternative" writers have been shouting into the wind about for many months.
After recounting a meeting in which Senators Sanders, Cantwell, Dorgan, Feinstein, Levin and Webb met with Obama, Geithner and Summers and expressed their dismay that the administration was just going to keep doing the same old thing which got us into this mess, Newsweek writer Michael Hersh writes:
Major Wall Street players are digging in against fundamental changes. And while it clearly wants to install serious supervision, the Obama administration—along with other key authorities like the New York Fed—appears willing to stand back while Wall Street resurrects much of the ultracomplex global trading system that helped lead to the worst financial collapse since the Depression.
At issue is whether trading in credit default swaps and other derivatives—and the giant, too-big-to-fail firms that traded them—will be allowed to dominate the financial landscape again once the crisis passes. As things look now, that is likely to happen. And the firms may soon be recapitalized and have a lot more sway in Washington—all of it courtesy of their supporters in the Obama administration. With its Public-Private Investment Program set to bid up and buy toxic assets, the administration is handing these companies another giant federal subsidy. But this time the money will come through the back door, bypassing Congress, mainly via FDIC loans. No one is quite sure how the program will work yet, but it's very likely going to make a lot of the same Wall Street houses much richer at taxpayer expense. Meanwhile, the big banks that still need help will almost certainly get another large infusion once the stress tests are completed by the end of the month.
The financial industry isn't leaving anything to chance, however. One sign of a newly assertive Wall Street emerged recently when a bevy of bailed-out firms, including Citigroup, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, formed a new lobby calling itself the Coalition for Business Finance Reform. Its goal: to stand against heavy regulation of "over-the-counter" derivatives, in other words customized contracts that are traded off an exchange...
Geithner's new rules would allow the over-the-counter market to boom again, orchestrated by global giants that will continue to be "too big to fail" (they may have to be rescued again someday, in other words). And most of it will still occur largely out of sight of regulated exchanges...
the old culture is reasserting itself with a vengeance. All of which runs up against the advice now being dispensed by many of the experts who were most prescient about the crash and its causes—the outsiders, in other words, as opposed to the insiders who are still running the show. Among the outsiders is Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the trader and professor who wrote "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable." Taleb wrote in the Financial Times this week that a fundamental new approach is needed. Not only should firms be prevented from growing too big to fail, "complex derivatives need to be banned because nobody understands them and few are rational enough to know it," he said. Yet even as we are still picking up the debris, we seem to be ready to embrace that world once again.