Posts filed under “Really, really bad calls”
Why the ‘Experts’ Failed to See How Financial Fraud Collapsed the Economy
By James K. Galbraith
The following is the text of a James K. Galbraith’s written statement to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee delivered this May. Original PDF text is here.
Chairman Specter, Ranking Member Graham, Members of the Subcommittee, as a former member of the congressional staff it is a pleasure to submit this statement for your record.
I write to you from a disgraced profession. Economic theory, as widely taught since the 1980s, failed miserably to understand the forces behind the financial crisis. Concepts including “rational expectations,” “market discipline,” and the “efficient markets hypothesis” led economists to argue that speculation would stabilize prices, that sellers would act to protect their reputations, that caveat emptor could be relied on, and that widespread fraud therefore could not occur. Not all economists believed this – but most did.
Thus the study of financial fraud received little attention. Practically no research institutes exist; collaboration between economists and criminologists is rare; in the leading departments there are few specialists and very few students. Economists have soft- pedaled the role of fraud in every crisis they examined, including the Savings & Loan debacle, the Russian transition, the Asian meltdown and the dot.com bubble. They continue to do so now. At a conference sponsored by the Levy Economics Institute in New York on April 17, the closest a former Under Secretary of the Treasury, Peter Fisher, got to this question was to use the word “naughtiness.” This was on the day that the SEC charged Goldman Sachs with fraud.
There are exceptions. A famous 1993 article entitled “Looting: Bankruptcy for Profit,” by George Akerlof and Paul Romer, drew exceptionally on the experience of regulators who understood fraud. The criminologist-economist William K. Black of the University of Missouri-Kansas City is our leading systematic analyst of the relationship between financial crime and financial crisis. Black points out that accounting fraud is a sure thing when you can control the institution engaging in it: “the best way to rob a bank is to own one.” The experience of the Savings and Loan crisis was of businesses taken over for the explicit purpose of stripping them, of bleeding them dry. This was established in court: there were over one thousand felony convictions in the wake of that debacle. Other useful chronicles of modern financial fraud include James Stewart’s Den of Thieves on the Boesky-Milken era and Kurt Eichenwald’s Conspiracy of Fools, on the Enron scandal. Yet a large gap between this history and formal analysis remains.
The big flaw in the business critique of regulation is not so much that it overstates the costs, but that it understates its benefits — in particular, the benefits of avoiding low-probability events with disastrous consequences. Think of oil spills, mine explosions, financial meltdowns or even global warming. There is a natural tendency of human…Read More
There are a variety of estimates as to the total spillage from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
As of yesterday, they were all significantly losses worse than the 10.8 million gallons of crude the drunk captain of the Exxon Valdez spilled. The range is 23.2 million gallons by the US government, to the worst case scenario of BP itself at 92.5 million gallons.
When this is done, it will dwarf the Valdez in total spillage, economic an d environmental damage.
Tracking the Oil Spill in the Gulf
click for interactive timeline
Graphic via the NYT
Size of Oil Spill Underestimated, Scientists Say
NYT, May 13, 2010
The FT is reporting that Goldie is on the verge of 9 figure settlement with the SEC: “Goldman Sachs is hoping to avoid the Securities and Exchange Commission’s charge of fraud by reaching a settlement on a lesser offence and agreeing to a fine of hundreds of millions of dollars, according to people familiar with…Read More
I left Vegas on Friday, but before I split, I took one final lap around the Skybridge Alternative Investment conference to say goodbye to a few people.
On the way out, I interrupt a tall old codger making time with Sandra, who works as Roubini’s Research Strategies Director. She is quite fetching, and since I was late, I bulled in, barking “Pardon the interruption.” I hurriedly air kiss her goodbye (European style, MWA! on each cheek), all the while thinking about my flight to San Diego. She introduces me to Lurch, but I’m only half listening, and I shake the old guy’s hand before bolting for my flight.
In the cab from the Bellagio to the airport, it dawns on me just what Sandra said: “Barry, this is Robert Rubin.” No bullshit, that’s who it was. He looked terrible; Clinton who just had quadruple bypass, looked much better.
Then again, Slick Willie’s biggest crime was sexual, not economic in nature. Whatever rationales Rubin’s conscious mind may have made about his role in the collapse, his subconscious knows better. And while no one else seems to be doing this, his subconscious is in the process of kicking his own ass. He seems to be slowly dying inside, at the behest of his own brain’s sense of guilt.
Regardless, I was reminded of that when I came across this list of the “corrupt corporate capitalists who leveraged their connections in government for their own personal profit . . . Today we know these opportunists as deregulatory hacks hellbent on making a profit at any cost.”
And look at this! Number 1 (with a bullet), turns out to be the former Treasury Secretary of State, whom I barely acknowledged while I was rudely interrupting his rap to a young hottie so I could say good bye to her:
America’s Ten Most Corrupt Capitalists
1. Robert Rubin
2. Alan Greenspan
3. Larry Summers
4. Phil and Wendy Gramm
5. Jamie Dimon
6. Stephen Friedman
7. Robert Steel
8. Henry Paulson
9. Warren Buffett
My approach to everything I have written, studied and analyzed in this space is pretty straight forward: Start with the data and evidence and go forward from there. Figure out what the “Truth” is; try to get as close to the objective reality beneath the noise in order to make intelligent investing decisions for myself…Read More
I finally figured out how all of those right wing think tanks went so far off the rails — blaming the Community Reinvestment Act for the housing boom and bust, credit crisis and economic/market collapse.
This has all been a simple misunderstanding. You see, these Think Tanks screwed up their acronyms! They did not realize at the time that “CRA” stood for Credit Rating Agencies.
So when they were told to “go forth and lay all of the blame on the CRA” — they simply picked the wrong 3 letter acronym agency. Its funny how these misunderstandings can take on a life of their own.
Now, if only we can find a high frequency trader named Fred Fannie, we can solve two other mysteries in one fell swoop . . .
On Friday, the one man contrary indicator announced — AFTER the equity market collapse, AFTER a huge spike in gold — that it was time to dump stocks, and get long Gold. I told a buddy on hedge fund manager/Saturday that meant we were due to see gold correct and the markets rally. I had…Read More
Category: Really, really bad calls
I Direct Your Attention, Mr. Fed Chairman, to Exhibits 1 through 10: 1. Ultra low interest rates led to a scramble for yield by fund managers; 2. Not coincidentally, there was a massive push into subprime lending by unregulated NONBANKS who existed solely to sell these mortgages to securitizers; 3. Since they were writing mortgages…Read More
I have regularly trashed Robert Rubin in this blog for quite some time. And while I further tarnish the name of Rubin in Bailout Nation — he is between Hank Paulson and Larry Summers in our blame list — I probably could have slapped him around even more had time and space pemitte.d No Matter….Read More