By Marshall Auerback, a market analyst and commentator
I’ll readily admit this is a personal post. One of the few, if not the only, good things to come out of the 2008 financial crisis was my introduction to “Naked Capitalism” and its proprietor, Yves Smith. In contrast to virtually all of the Pollyannish commentary out there (remember when Ben Bernanke estimated that losses from the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States would be around $100bn?), NC gave a much better read of the extent of the problems well before the MSM, as well as identifying and excoriating all sorts of perps, by name (like Robert Khuzami, who was the SEC’s head of enforcement under Obama, now making news as the prosecutor who nailed Michael Cohen). Naked Capitalism also documented multiple legal theories that were eminently well-suited to prosecuting TBTF executives. The more I came to read her blog, the more impressed I came to be with the scope of breadth of the coverage of the mounting crisis, as well forming a friendship with a person, whose integrity and scholarship is second to none. So I hope you will give generously to Naked Capitalism; the Tip Jar tells you how.
It’s wrong to say that Naked Capitalism’s coverage ultimately made a difference, if one is to judge by the state of affairs today. But history will treat Yves’s accounts much more kindly, especially when the next crisis comes, as it most assuredly will.
Why do I express unhappy confidence that a new crisis will soon be upon us? Because if one is to read the voluminous commentaries that have emerged in the last few weeks, as the aftermath of Lehman’s demise has been recounted. Most disturbing has been the reticence of policy makers at the time, with the benefit of hindsight, to recognize that there was a better approach than simply restoring the status quo ante via bank bailouts which demanded nothing of private creditors, but punished private debtors – socialism for the rich, capitalism for the rest of us.
As George Soros and the President of the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), Rob Johnson have argued: “a critical opportunity was missed when the balance of the burden of adjustment was tilted heavily in favor of creditors relative to debtors in the response to the crisis and that this contributed to the prolonged stagnation that followed the crisis. The long-term social and political ramifications of this missed opportunity have been profound.” Unlike the Savings & Loan crisis, there was no private sector loss recognition. Then Treasury Secretary Geithner falsely claimed that there were only 2 options: bailouts or letting the system collapse.
That was a false choice. As Soros & Johnson point out, much more effective and fair use of taxpayers’ money would have been to reduce the value of mortgages held by ordinary Americans to reflect the decline in home prices and to inject capital into the financial institutions that would become undercapitalized. Yes, this might have exposed the full extent of the banks’ liabilities and might well have forced FDIC style restructurings, which ultimately would have resulted in changed management, and a break-up of Too Big To Fail Banks (and likely no “To Big to Jail” bank executives). Tim Geithner, Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers to this day resist the idea that adopting FDIC style reforms, which would have provided a rational resolution to the foreclosure crisis (albeit, at a cost of destroying the capital base of the big Wall Street banks). Summers dismissed these ideas as something akin to “socialism”
Faced with the choice of preserving the financial industry as it was or embracing far-reaching reforms that would have served the interests of those who voted for him, Barack Obama, the “change you can believe in” President, chose the former. Not only did that taint every government initiative undertaken in the aftermath of the bailouts (such as healthcare), but it created an undercurrent of cynicism, political disillusionment and anger that ultimately paved the way for Donald Trump. Of course, Trump’s cabinet of corrupt billionaires has done no better. But even as #TheResistance has risen to protest the rise of his profoundly corrupt presidency, we should not pretend it is replacing something that was popular or effective. The old normal was not working. The nostalgia for the Obamas in the White House is not a yearning for Obama’s policies.
In today’s highly tribalised environment, it is hard to get many in the mainstream media to recognize this fundamental truth. Criticism of any financial reforms undertaken by the Obama Administration is now seen as de facto endorsement of Trump or #MAGA. It’s nothing of the sort and Naked Capitalism is one of the few publications that has managed to maintain its moral bearings and speak truth to power, even when it is unpopular to do so. In this day of “fake news”, not only does NC remain worthy of your support, but essential to provide ongoing financial support so that Yves and her colleagues can continue their important mission.
There’s no question that articulating a view that diverges widely from a prevailing consensus can be painful. Heaven knows, as an ardent and vocal supporter of Modern Monetary Theory in the blogosphere, it was often personally painful, exhausting and dispiriting for me (and others, such as Randy Wray, Warren Mosler, Rob Parenteau, Scott Fullwiler, and many more) taking on anonymous trolls, who substituted debate for mendacity and vicious personal attacks of the worst kind. But it was always good to know that I had a supportive editor like Yves, who always had my back as well as the intellectual self-confidence (and, indeed, brilliance) to help me and others take on the onslaught.
Later she was joined by some great people like Matt Stoller, Dave Dayen, Lambert Strether, and others, all of them helped to make Naked Capitalism a intelligent platform which encouraged free but fair-minded debate, a venue where new ideas could be debated honestly and intelligently. And in many respects helped move the debate forward in a very positive direction. Yves Smith deserves a huge amount of credit for making NC that kind of venue and for that reason, she shall always have my loyalty, friendship, and support for this blog going forward. It’s been 10 years since we’ve collaborated together and become good friends as an additional bonus. Long may it continue! Please do your part to make sure it does. Share articles and what you learn here with people you know. And give generously to this fundraiser. Whatever you can contribute, $5, $50, or $5000, all helps keep Naked Capitalism an important voice for all of us.