Posts filed under “Really, really bad calls”

Summers: Good Riddance

The good news: Summers is gone Jan 1 (no word yet on Geithner).

The bad news? I am not sure what (if any) impact this will have on the administration’s economic policies.

To review:  Summers is the former Clinton Treasury Secretary, mentored by Robert Rubin. As such, he was one of (many) architects of the financial crisis. In addition to believing all of the usual foolishness about efficient markets, he bought into the radical deregulation arguments pushed by the free market absolutists.

Summers was the Treasury Secretary when Glass Steagall was repealed. Instead of speaking out against the irresponsible Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999) that allowed the Financialization of America to progress, he actively supported it. Instead of explaining to the public how Glass Steagall had prevented every Wall Street crisis since the Great Depression from spilling over onto Main Street, he rolled over for Citibank.

Understand that the repeal of Glass Steagall was not a cause of the crisis. But, it allowed the net damage to be far greater and extend far wider than it would have otherwise been. From a libertarian perspective, it was emblematic of the corporate takeover of the legislative process. For a hefty fee (aka campaign donation) you could pretty much write the regulations that covered your own industry. How could that ever go wrong?

Summers oversaw the passage of the even more ruinous Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000. The CFMA exempted all financial derivatives from any and all regulatory oversight. The CFMA not made the AIG collapse possible, it made it highly likely. It helped to set up both the Lehman and Bear Stearns’ collapses. The CFMA allowed AIG FP to write over $3 trillion in derivatives, reserving precisely zero dollars in case these insurance policy-like obligations had to be paid out.

Failing upwards: When Obama appointment the Rubin duo of Summers and Geithner, it a perverse reward for a job done poorly. The two were creatures of the banking system, and were unlikely to do anything that threatened the existing order. Even worse, it created a dynamic where the new administration was committed to defending the policies that helped to contribute to the crisis in the first place. Instead of To Hell with the Banks, Save the Banking System, we got the exact reverse. This was Rubin’s lasting gift to the Obama White House:  A third term for George W. Bush’s economic policies. When Obama becomes a one-termer, it will be his own fault for following this horrific economic advice.

Summers was incapable of saying, let’s repeal the Glass Steagall Repeal; lets overturn CFMA. Rather than fix what was broken, he stayed committed to the same bad ideas that led to crisis and collapse. Most humans have a hard time saying: “My bad, let’s just reverse the error and start over.” By putting into senior positions the people who helped create the mess, we ended up with a defense of the decision making that proceeded, instead of a fresh approach. Summers was a defender of the status quo. This was not change we could believe in — it was simply more of the same.

The Bush administration gave us the bailouts of Bear Stearns, Fannie & Frediie, AIG, Citigroup, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Goldmasn Sachs, et. al.  The hope that a new White House would change the course was quickly dashed by the new old Economic team. Obama lacked the will or the understanding or the nerve to break with those Bush policies. That was his ultimate error. Instead of imprinting the failures of the prior administration on his predecessor, instead of making Bush own what he in fact did, Obama wrongly adopted them. Thus, he made the bailouts in large part his own. Huge mistake — and one that was inevitable with Summers large and in charge of White House Economic policy.

The Obama White House correctly forced the insolvent automakers into bankruptcy reorganization. They should have done the same with the insolvent banks and investment firms. That was impossible with the banker’s boys running the White House economic policy:  The Rubin/Summers/Geithner team made sure that did not happen.

As Allan Meltzer stated,  “Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin—it just doesn’t work.” The change people voted for never appeared, and the Summers led economic team gave us two more years of Bush bailout policies. For that humongous error, his departure is a welcome change.

~~~

UPDATE: September 22, 2010 10:34am

To put this into context of Wall Street:

Whenever a new portfolio manager takes over an older, under-performing fund, the first thing he does is jettison all of his predessor’s mistakes. Why own the prior manager’s problems? If you decide these names are attractive at a later date, well then, he can own them on his own terms, metrics, methods, etc.

But if you were to put the original manager back in charge, he will not be able to disown those prior errors. His cognitive biases are likely to prevent him from acknowledging the same problems he created. This is why project leaders are removed, military commanders get relieved, CEOs get fired. A clean sweep is all but impossible with the prior management. This is human nature.

Category: Bailouts, Politics, Psychology, Really, really bad calls, Regulation

Outcome vs Process

I wanted to share an interesting email exchange from this weekend. “R” writes: “You occasionally shred an argument with more than a hint of animus. I don’t want to say its ad hominem, but it comes damn close.  Some people get viciously disemboweled, while others are more gently corrected. Why?” That’s a fair question. You…Read More

Category: Financial Press, Markets, Psychology, Really, really bad calls

Reuters: Please Get Your Shit Together

I don’t know what is more idiotic: This horrific Reuters misquote, or the impossibly idiotic commenting system they have in place. First, the misquote: “Turning to the housing market, Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture is predicting the worst in housing is likely over. Sure prices could fall another 33 percent — but it’s unlikely…Read More

Category: Media, Really, really bad calls

Kasriel Boskin Smackdown Déjà Vu

As we noted in these pages a few weeks ago, Paul Kasriel gave Michael Boskin’s selective memory a who-dat-what-for.

This morning, Barron’s picks up the same theme:

IT’S PERVERSE OF US, WE ADMIT, but we get a real kick out of a dust-up between economists. If nothing else, it demonstrates that the dismal science is not a science and not necessarily dismal.

What occasions this somewhat less than profound observation is a recent commentary of Northern Trust’s director of economic research, Paul Kasriel, taking issue with an op ed piece in our sister publication, The Wall Street Journal, by Michael Boskin, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under the first President Bush.

Mr. Boskin blamed the lackadaisical recovery on the Obama administration’s economic policies, a view that is widely shared these days. Paul avers his intention is not to argue for or against those policies, but to express wonder that in fingering the causes of the feeble recovery Mr. Boskin somehow neglected to include the extraordinary contraction in bank credit.

In making his case, Mr. Boskin compared the current recovery with more robust ones, particularly the first quarter of 1983, when Martin Feldstein was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan.

On that score, Paul finds it “curious” that Mr. Boskin makes no reference to the 1991 recovery when he was the Council’s top dog. Our initial reaction to the omission was, for gosh sakes, Paul, since when is modesty a sin?

Paul then proceeds to note that one year into the rebound in 1983, GDP growth weighed in at 7.7%, accompanied by a 6.4% growth in bank credit. That’s significantly better than the 3% rise in the first year of the present recovery, when bank credit actually contracted an awesome 7.9%.

And it also happens to be a heap better than the 2.6% rise in GDP in 1991, when bank credit rose only 1.4%.

It goes without saying, Paul concedes, that other factors besides bank credit play a part in GDP growth. But he insists that the shrinkage in bank credit has been a substantial element in the disappointing pace of this dispiriting recovery.

Read More

Category: Economy, Media, Really, really bad calls

Whatever Happened to that Apple iPhone Recall?

“If the current betting trends are to be believed, it now seems certain that a recall is in the cards” -Paddy Power, Irelands Biggest Bookmaker July 14, 2010 press release > Speaking of dumb bets: Its time to revisit a recent prediction market “winner,” and review the strengths and weaknesses of these markets: Recall this…Read More

Category: Mathematics, Really, really bad calls, UnScience

1990 Newsweek Cover: The Real Estate BUST

As a follow up to yesterday’s look at Time magazine’s Housing covers, Paul Macrae Montgomery of Universal Economics was kind enough to share this report from 1992. In that research piece, Paul had made mention of an October 1st, 1990 cover story in Newsweek: The Real Estate BUST. > > How well did that cover…Read More

Category: Contrary Indicators, Real Estate, Really, really bad calls

Tale Of Home Prices Told Through Covers Of TIME

I have a commentary on the Time Magazine article coming this week — I find it is both inaccurate and misleading — but meanwhile, here is Jim Bianco’s take on it: ~~~ 1. Time Magazine – The Case Against Homeownership September 6, 2010 -Time: Homeownership has let us down. For generations, Americans believed that owning…Read More

Category: Contrary Indicators, Psychology, Real Estate, Really, really bad calls

9/11 Reflections

Each year, I try to avoid writing anything about 9/11. But I had some issues to work through this year, and I find jotting a few notes down helps me. My personal experience on 9/11 was secondhand. I was in the LI office of the firm where I was Market Strategist. Our HQ and trading…Read More

Category: Really, really bad calls, War/Defense

Smackdown: Paul Kasriel vs Michael Boskin

We at the Big Picture have never been fans of economist Michael Boskin. The infamous Boskin commission was an intellectually dishonest exercise in clever ways to understate inflation, thus lowering Social Security obligations. (I found that approach cowardly, and instead offered up some SS truths). His commission helped the BLS to habitually understate inflation, the…Read More

Category: Markets, Really, really bad calls, Taxes and Policy

CrowdQuery: Was Obama Too Cautious During Panic

> Martin Wolf, who has been more right during the period leading up to the crisis, and thereafter, than anyone else I can think of, blames the present economic malaise on political timidity: Obama was too cautious in fearful times: “Suppose that the US presidential election of 1932 had, in fact, taken place in 1930,…Read More

Category: Economy, Politics, Really, really bad calls