By George Washington of Washington’s Blog.
As I have repeatedly written, the largest U.S. banks have repeatedly gone bankrupt due to wild speculation which was blessed by the Fed, and then the government covered up their bankruptcy.
Indeed, the New York Times writes today about one of the too big to fails:
Over the past 80 years, the United States government has engineered not one, not two, not three, but at least four rescues of the institution now known as Citigroup.
But prominent economist James Galbraith recently told Bill Moyers:
JAMES GALBRAITH: The overwhelming emphasis, in the administration’s program, I think, has been to return things to a condition of normalcy, to use a 1920s word, that prevailed five and ten years ago. That is to say, we’re back to a world in which Wall Street and the major banks are leading, and setting the path–
BILL MOYERS: To restore what was.
JAMES GALBRAITH: To restore what was–
BILL MOYERS: Instead of reform what is.
JAMES GALBRAITH: And I don’t think what was can be restored.
BILL MOYERS: And you say that’s the objective of the administration’s policies? Geithner, Bernanke, Summers, the President himself?
JAMES GALBRAITH: To the extent that there’s a defined objective, that’s it, yes. I think in the immediate day-to-day work, they’ve largely been preoccupied with keeping the existing system from collapsing. And the government is powerful. It has substantially succeeded at that, but you really have to think about, do you want to have a financial sector dominated by a small number of very large institutions, very difficult to manage, practically impossible to regulate, and ruled by, essentially, the same people and the same culture that caused the crisis in the first place.
In other words – as I have repeatedly written – the administration’s talk of reform is just talk … the boys are just trying to restore the status quo.
Galbraith also pointed out – as many other experts have – that confidence in the system cannot be restored unless the fraud which led to the crash is investigated:
JAMES GALBRAITH: That’s the point about the crisis, is that it could have been prevented. The people in authority two, three, five years ago, knew how to prevent it. They chose not to act, because they were getting a political and an economic benefit out of the speculative explosion that was occurring.
BILL MOYERS: You mean, the people who could have prevented the dam from breaking were too busy fishing above it, and reaping big rewards to want to fix the crack in it?
JAMES GALBRAITH: Sure. The Federal Reserve, in particular, knew that the dam was cracking. Alan Greenspan, I think, almost surely knew this, and chose to wait until it had washed away.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
JAMES GALBRAITH: They let all of this run, because they were getting a superficially stronger economy out of it. The ownership society, all that was a scam, basically, designed to lure people who could never afford these mortgages into accepting them. And yes, I think they, any rational person, certainly people in the industry, knew that this was not going to last. There was a little industry code, I’ve learned, IBGYBG. “I’ll be gone. You’ll be gone.”
BILL MOYERS: Really?
JAMES GALBRAITH: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: The industry being the securities industry?
JAMES GALBRAITH: Well, and the mortgage originators and the bankers, generally.
BILL MOYERS: But that’s criminal fraud.
JAMES GALBRAITH: Oh sure. There was a huge amount of it. The Bush administration did not actively investigate the fraud that they knew, that the FBI knew was occurring, from 2004 onward. And there will have to be full-scale investigation and cleaning up of the residue of that, before you can have, I think, a return of confidence in the financial sector. And that’s a process which needs to get underway.
As the New York Times article notes, the lack of transparency is ongoing, even as between different branches of government:
Representative Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, recently registered unease about the government’s guarantee of $300 billion in Citigroup assets and how effectively the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, was monitoring the bank.
“We cannot know the full scope of the taxpayers’ potential cost from these hasty guarantees,” Mr. Doggett said last week in an e-mail message. “Inexplicably, Secretary Geithner appears unwilling to commit to conduct an analysis, despite my specific request to him in March. A critical and transparent examination of the response to the financial crisis is essential not only to learn from past mistakes, but also to prevent further erosion of the public’s trust in government.”
Mario Seccareccia – editor of the International Journal of Political Economy – points out:
The Great Crash of 1929 taught us that a modern monetary market economy is governed by confidence. As John Maynard Keynes put it, monetary relations and, more precisely, asset values, are held up by one’s belief in the future. Without it, the whole credit-driven economic system comes to a halt and economic agents scramble for cover by seeking to acquire liquidity.
While in a non commodity-based monetary system a central bank can quite easily supply liquidity in its role as lender of last resort, a central bank cannot single-handedly instill confidence in the future. When confidence is lost, monetary policy is impotent in building up asset values, which can only be sustained if people believe in future revenue arising from future production. The economy remains trapped in a state of paralysis in which everyone is seeking to remain liquid. History tells the tale: Excessive optimism prior to the Great Crash turned to hopelessness during the early 1930s.
Without a thorough investigation like the Pecora Commission, and without prosecuting those who are guilty, confidence and hope in the future will not be restored, consumer confidence will remain depressed, and we will remain in an economic slump.