UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 23, 2009

CRASH REPORT

Ruth Conniff, Progressive - At some point we have to take a clear-eyed look at the massive failure of our financial system. Ignoring it won't make it go away.

That's more or less what Elizabeth Warren, the distinguished chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, says in her panel's six-month report on the bank bailout. Warren, the government's watchdog, concedes that there are differences of opinion on her panel, which probably accounts for her very carefully couched discussion of the crisis. . .

In a financial crisis like the current one, Warren explains, the government has three choices: 1. Liquidate failed banks. (That's what happened in the S&L crisis. The government took over institutions, fired the managers, wiped out investors, but protected depositors. A lot of savings and loans simply went out of business.) 2. Put them in receivership. (That's what Sweden did in the 1990s: failed managers were fired and replaced, depositors were protected, and the banks were returned to private hands under new management with healthier balance sheets.) or 3. Subsidize the banks. This last option is what led Japan to its "lost decade" -- the real value of bank assets are obscured, as the government funnels tax money into insolvent banks, propping them up indefinitely. This last is the approach the United States is now taking.

If you want to hear someone absolutely destroy that approach to the current crisis, check out a round of recent interviews with William Black, the professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri who was deputy director of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. during the S&L crisis in the 1980s. Black, who liquidated a few banks in his time and earned the eternal enmity of Charles Keating, minces no words in describing the massive fraud by bankers and the regulators, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, whom he describes as abetting them.

"This whole bank scandal makes Teapot Dome look like some kind of kids' doll set," Black told the investors' journal Barron's in an interview published in the print edition on April 13. (The interview appeared online on April 9, but you need a paid subscription to access the site). He covers the same points in a highly watchable interview on Bill Moyer's Journal..

"We have lost the ability to be blunt," Black tells Barrons. He is talking about the person he describes to Bill Moyers as a "failed regulator," Geithner. "Now we have a situation where Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner can speak of a $2 trillion hole in the banking system, at the same time all the major banks report they are well capitalized. And you have seen no regulatory action against what amounts to a $2 trillion accounting fraud. The reason we don't see it--aren't told about it--is that if they were honest, prompt corrective action would kick in, and then they would have to deal with the problem banks."

In other words, the banks are insolvent. That's why they must rely on the Troubled Assets Relief Program. But at the same time, they are claiming to be healthy. Both things can't be true.

So we get smiley-face reports about how Goldman and Wells Fargo are posting record profits. Investors and citizens are supposed to be excited to see those profit numbers--comprised of their own tax dollars plus the banks refusing to accurately value their toxic assets. . .

The whole culture is rotten. And the regulators come right out of that corrupt, Wall Street culture.

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