Black Report: Top Justice official tells Wall St. how to avoid prosecution

Bill Black is the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He blogs at New Economic Perspectives. Here he’s interviewed by Paul Jay of the Real News Network.

More at The Real News

The whole piece is rather a “That Was The Week That Was” for alternative finance/political economy geeks, with Lanny Breur, 47%, and QE3 all covered, but even though working out on Lanny Breuer is always good clean fun, this, further into the show, caught my eye:

BLACK: And then the general theory [of QE3] is — interest rates act like sort of a hurdle when you’re investing as a business: you’ve got to be able to get a return that gets you over at least that hurdle of the interest rate. So if you lower the hurdle a lot, then more investment should get over it and you should get a stronger recovery. That’s their hope, at least.

JAY: And that — in theory, why wouldn’t that already have worked better than it has? ‘Cause interest rates have been low for quite some time. The banks are sitting on, what, $1.5 trillion cash, and they’re making very few loans, and I guess because there’s still no real demand, purchasing-power demand in the economy and nobody wants to build anything new.

BLACK: Well, that’s our take on it, as you know. Their take on it is similar, but they add, well, maybe people are not convinced that the interest rates will stay very low for long time. … So the claim is, hey, what’s different this time is this — we’re going to stay the course, guys [confidence!], we’re going to keep these rates down.

JAY: So you can plan on these low rates for, like, the rest of the decade or something.

BLACK: Yeah. Now, of course Bernanke can’t really promise that.

Like the old jokes about economists, assume a Confidence Fairy with an Iron Fist, no? Surely this is not the time to double down on Fed independence? Or is it? What would have to be true for Bernanke’s decade-long “promise” to be good?

And anyhow, when everybody knows the “guys” running the show are all unindicted co-conspirators, how can “confidence” be anything other than another con?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Bert_S

    First of all it shouldn’t matter to non-financial corporations how long the Fed intends to keep rates low. They issue 20 year corporate bonds at a fixed rate and then spend the money into existance.

    It makes a big difference to banks because they then know how long they can do near risk free speculation in the appropriate financial markets.

    “Confidence Fairy with an Iron Fist” is not as far fetched as it sounds. For $2.5 trillion Ben can buy back China’s and Japan’s ownership of the USofA. Then he has only willing players left – the banks making bucko risk free bucks playing in the rigged markets with cheap money. (till something blows anyway).

    It wreaks havoc on your retirement planning, however.

    1. James Cole

      Only the very largest corporate borrowers–like Fortune 100– borrow at fixed rates, everyone else borrows at a spread to LIBOR or some other variable rate index. Also, nonfinancial corporations don’t spend anything into existence, the banks create the loan proceeds and then transfer them to the borrower’s account.

      1. Bert_S

        Corporate bonds are not bank borrowing. And they might get idle funds from somewhere, or funds converted from other assets (like stock) and spend them into “circulation”.

        I was just having fun with MMT Speak.

  2. Schofield

    Of course it nevers occurs to gold bugs that the more they hoard money in gold the less demand in the economy and a tipping point reached where even the demand for gold crashes because incomes have drastically declined!

    1. James Cole

      Gold bugs are thinking about what happens after the big crash, when presumably there is a correlation between gun- and gold-ownership. Also, to the extent that cash is more liquid than gold, gold hoarders (or at least the ones that exchange cash for gold) are providing liquidity.

  3. kevinearick

    There is no real demand for govt., and the university professors that provide the stage simply cannot and will not accept reality, which they get paid to obfuscate. the story of jesus is the story of a mob voting to crucify the messenger, for their own sin. what’s new? new republic same as the old. of course those who succumb to peer pressure will always blame others for their own choices .

        1. aletheia33

          that’s a mixed metaphor.

          i appreciate kevin’s increasing comprehensibility and brevity, so
          no complaints here.

          who says comments have to follow what laws of discourse exactly?

          poems work too

          1. just me

            There is no real
            demand for govt.,
            and the university professors that provide the stage

            will not
            accept reality,

            which they get paid to obfuscate.

            the story of jesus is
            the story of a mob
            voting to crucify
            the messenger,
            for their own sin.

            what’s new?

            new republic same as the old.
            of course
            those who succumb
            to peer pressure


            for their own choices


            (Wish I got paid to obfuscate :-)

  4. Susan the other

    “What would have to be true for Bernanke’s decade long promise (of zirp) to be good?” One facilitating condition would be an entrenched, very high unemployment rate keeping inflation in deflation mode. Which is why I often think B is fibbing to us about wanting to do something about unemployment. Another is a political dedication to a devalued dollar for export purposes. I do think this exists now. A third condition to keeping zirp is the 800 lb. gorilla – control of oil. Oil always used to be the great inflator, the fist. Now we (I kinda think) have appropriated it lock, stock and barrel. Pun intended. So we can control the price of oil. And gradually bring it down. And if it is true that all central banks are freaked out, that indicates it is a currency war in a desperate time when population has peaked and in every country people over 60 are the highest, and most rapidly growing, segment of the population. So the demographics are also an ecomomic deflator. We gonna need a wizard.

    1. Benedict@Large

      Bernanke knows that QE doesn’t and can’t do anything. QE addresses liquidity, and as a glance at excess reserves makes obvious, we’ve got enough liquidity to refloat Noah’s Ark until the Second Coming.

      So why does Bernanke do it? Because the people who pay his salary expect him to. THEY believe it will do something, so if he doesn’t do it, they’ll find someone else who will.

    2. Carol Sterritt

      So if what you are saying is true, that the fasted growing demographic is those of us over 60, then if those people had some buying power, the economy might be restored.

      My small business very much depends on two segments of the world’s population: women over 60 on pensions who want books, and the Chinese, who finally can buy books of a metaphysical nature. If Social Security is rolled back (As I am sure it will be) I lose as a business person. I also can no longer go out and work – I have been told to my face that the agencies I apply to don’t want the jump in premiums that hiring someone over 55 would cause them. I actually think that Universal Single Payer HC would have been a boon for the economy. As it is now, many seniors under 65 are on food stamps.

      1. Susan the other

        I agree with you that single payer is the single most important thing on the agenda, the delayed agenda. And the conditions that allow Bernanke to do zirp are like a windfall to the banks. Who in turn control politics, as BaL just said.

        1. aletheia33

          at lunch with a freshly immigrating canadian today, i got an earful on how incredibly stupid we are with the $$ we literally throw away paying extortion to the “health” cartel. don’t think she fully realizes the extent of the extortion aspect, but her outrage at the waste was palpable.

          she also said canada’s going to lose their universal health care. “they’ll miss it when it’s gone.”

          she didn’t say so, but judging by her level of upset at stuff that for us is normal, it was clear she’s been accustomed to a higher level of service and quality of care than standard insurance will buy you here.

  5. briansays

    the rest of the decade?
    more of the same

    from jesse

    The ranks of the working poor have swelled for sure, because of a financial collapse brought on by unfettered greed and fraud of Wall Street, and a stagnant real median wage for the past 20 years in the face of rising costs, often driven by monopolies, fraud, and cartels.

    A kleptocracy is sucking the life out of working men and women by force and fraud. A group of sociopaths, who have committed one of the great crimes in history, not only blithely walk away with their loot unpunished, but come back to rob their victims once again, to finish the job. And they gorge themselves on the public trust even while begrudging the widow her pittance, or trying to steal it.

    They pervert and corrupt so many, filling their hearts with their passionate lies, appealing to what is the very worst in them. They are truly a den of vipers and thieves.

  6. albrt

    Nothing changes.

    “The word ‘confidence’ appears in every chapter, as some sort of leitmotif to remind the reader what Melville is preoccupied with: the meanness and exploitation of his contemporary America. Because for all of the references to the need for people to have confidence in one another, the only type of confidence on the riverboat is that associated with scams.”

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