Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The "Wall Street coup" and other fallacies


Washington D.C.--I stayed offline yesterday assuming there would be hysteria, hyperbole, totally irrational debating over what's actually happening, and so on. I was correct.

Even Michael Moore was in on the whole "it's a coup" beat, but he means well and I understand the passions running riot at the moment. It's all understandable, but it's time to get a grip.
Let me cut to the chase. The biggest robbery in the history of this country is taking place as you read this. Though no guns are being used, 300 million hostages are being taken. Make no mistake about it: After stealing a half trillion dollars to line the pockets of their war-profiteering backers for the past five years, after lining the pockets of their fellow oilmen to the tune of over a hundred billion dollars in just the last two years, Bush and his cronies -- who must soon vacate the White House -- are looting the U.S. Treasury of every dollar they can grab. They are swiping as much of the silverware as they can on their way out the door. ...

and:

Unbelievable. Wall Street and its backers created this mess and now they are going to clean up like bandits. Even Rudy Giuliani is lobbying for his firm to be hired (and paid) to "consult" in the bailout.

The problem is, nobody truly knows what this "collapse" is all about. Even Treasury Secretary Paulson admitted he doesn't know the exact amount that is needed (he just picked the $700 billion number out of his head!). The head of the congressional budget office said he can't figure it out nor can he explain it to anyone. ("The Rich Are Staging a Coup This Morning...," MichaelMoore.com, 09.29.2008)

Yeah, I wasn't missing much, and I love Michael Moore. Then, there are wack-jobs like Len Hart and Sherry Clark (both of whom might mean well, but...) over at OpEd News, a site whose demise couldn't come soon enough. Why? Exactly. Why give a wack-job a really big soapbox to stand on and raise all kinds of alarmist bells? Why not? Let these hysterical-types write on their own little sites only:

It is official. [Ed.--Says you.] The Constitu[t]ion has been suspended. Martial Law has been declared by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (before the market fell 800 points). This declaration of martial law is presumably in response to the [manufactured] financial crisis at hand.This may still be a "secret,"[Ed.--Ok, if it's a "secret" how do you know? You don't know, you're just grandstanding for attention.] but if Representative Michael Burgess is telling the truth, there are no longer three equal branches of government. [Ed.--It seems you place too much faith in the words of Republicans.] The United States is now under dictatorship. The 'Decider' is now the Dictator. ("Martial Law Declared in the United States?" Sherry Clark, OpEd News, 09.30.2008)
That's funny, since the president has obviously become ineffectual, afraid, and hardly looks like he has the support of anybody. Not from the military, not the media, and not from his own party. And yes, you noticed--as most Americans have--that Congress still passed the military budgets Bush wanted (but really, they all wanted it all along) as they usually do. But they weren't going to pass his bailout bill, undermining Clark's and others assertions of "a coup."It isn't just Michael Moore who's acting alarmist, he's got real competition from the likes of Ms. Clark, but at least Moore has calmed-down since the 29th, while Clark clearly has not.

In 1989, I saw his "Roger and Me" twice, but sometimes we are simply wrong. No, he's not wrong about the original Bush/GOP bailout plan being a ripoff that allows for things to stay the same and that these crooked firms and investors will walk away with a lot of money, that's accurate.

What he's wrong about is that it would be "a coup," which has been a foregone conclusion in this country for many decades. The truth is that America is a process, and an ideal to strive for. Liberty must be attained and held-onto tightly. The American public actually did act on this--belatedly--yesterday, calling and e-mailing their representatives over Monday's version of the bailout bill and that they didn't want it to pass. Not many do. The problem is significantly deeper.

The fact is, the free-market system doesn't work in America or anywhere else, which is why many of these firms were allowed to engage in the criminal behavior in the first place. The corruption is inherent to the system itself. But let's take it to a more understandable level: American businessmen at the upper-echelons simply aren't good at business and finance, have traditionally relied on government support if not bailouts, and can barely see past the financial quarter they're currently inhabiting. That's right, they're shortsighted. But don't tell that to the eternally greedy or paranoid, those who would bestow these current clowns on Wall Street--and Karl Rove--with the mantle of "genius," when times are good. That's as reactionary and shortsighted a response as you would expect from an investment banker.

There is no coup. It happened a long time ago--after the Civil War--when both parties sold themselves lock, stock, and barrel to concentrated banking and industrial might. Welcome to the real America--uh, Americans--you're finally figuring it out. You've lost your cherry.

Oh yes, yes, there's going to be yet another ridiculous version of a bailout plan coming this week. It won't do much for the public, and it's going to hand-over too much to Wall Street and all the other dirty lenders and investors...and it won't work. The reasons should be obvious: no fundamental change in the way things are done. This means a massive economic downturn as well.

You cannot expect criminals to charge and arrest themselves. Congress aided and abetted the current mess, and they're going to take the hit eventually, regardless of what gets passed. On September 24th, 2008, two hundred noted American economists sent this letter to Congress, meaning it was addressing "the Bush plan":

To the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate:

As economists, we want to express to Congress our great concern for the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson to deal with the financial crisis. We are well aware of the difficulty of the current financial situation and we agree with the need for bold action to ensure that the financial system continues to function. We see three fatal pitfalls in the currently proposed plan:

1) Its fairness. The plan is a subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.

2) Its ambiguity. Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards.

3) Its long-term effects. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America's dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.

For these reasons we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.

Signed (updated at 9/27/2008 6:00PM CT)Acemoglu Daron (Massachussets Institute of Technology)
Ackerberg Daniel (UCLA)
Adler Michael (Columbia University)
Admati Anat R. (Stanford University)
Ales Laurence (Carnegie Mellon University)
Alexis Marcus (Northwestern University)
Alvarez Fernando (University of Chicago)
Andersen Torben (Northwestern University)
Baliga Sandeep (Northwestern University)
Banerjee Abhijit V. (Massachussets Institute of Technology)
Barankay Iwan (University of Pennsylvania)
Barry Brian (University of Chicago)
Bartkus James R. (Xavier University of Louisiana)
Becker Charles M. (Duke University)
Becker Robert A. (Indiana University)
Beim David (Columbia University)
Berk Jonathan (Stanford University)
Bisin Alberto (New York University)
Bittlingmayer George (University of Kansas)
Blank Emily (Howard University)
Boldrin Michele (Washington University)
Bollinger, Christopher R. (University of Kentucky)
Bossi, Luca (University of Miami)
Brooks Taggert J. (University of Wisconsin)
Brynjolfsson Erik (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Buera Francisco J.(UCLA)
Cabral Luis (New York University)
Camp Mary Elizabeth (Indiana University)
Carmel Jonathan (University of Michigan)
Carroll Christopher (Johns Hopkins University)
Cassar Gavin (University of Pennsylvania)
Chaney Thomas (University of Chicago)
Chari Varadarajan V. (University of Minnesota)
Chauvin Keith W. (University of Kansas)
Chintagunta Pradeep K. (University of Chicago)
Christiano Lawrence J. (Northwestern University)
Clementi, Gian Luca (New York University)
Cochrane John (University of Chicago)
Coleman John (Duke University)
Constantinides George M. (University of Chicago)
Cooley, Thomas (New York University)
Crain Robert (UC Berkeley)
Culp Christopher (University of Chicago)
Da Zhi (University of Notre Dame)
Darity, William (Duke University)
Davis Morris (University of Wisconsin)
De Marzo Peter (Stanford University)
Dubé Jean-Pierre H. (University of Chicago)
Edlin Aaron (UC Berkeley)
Eichenbaum Martin (Northwestern University)
Ely Jeffrey (Northwestern University)
Eraslan Hülya K. K.(Johns Hopkins University)
Fair Ray (Yale University)
Faulhaber Gerald (University of Pennsylvania)
Feldmann Sven (University of Melbourne)
Fernandez, Raquel (New York University)
Fernandez-Villaverde Jesus (University of Pennsylvania)
Fohlin Caroline (Johns Hopkins University)
Fox Jeremy T. (University of Chicago)
Frank Murray Z.(University of Minnesota)
Frenzen Jonathan (University of Chicago)
Fuchs William (University of Chicago)
Fudenberg Drew (Harvard University)
Gabaix Xavier (New York University)
Gao Paul (Notre Dame University)
Garicano Luis (University of Chicago)
Gerakos Joseph J. (University of Chicago)
Gibbs Michael (University of Chicago)
Glomm Gerhard (Indiana University)
Goettler Ron (University of Chicago)
Goldin Claudia (Harvard University)
Gordon Robert J. (Northwestern University)
Greenstone Michael (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Gregory, Karl D. (Oakland University)
Guadalupe Maria (Columbia University)
Guerrieri Veronica (University of Chicago)
Hagerty Kathleen (Northwestern University)
Hamada Robert S. (University of Chicago)
Hansen Lars (University of Chicago)
Harris Milton (University of Chicago)
Hart Oliver (Harvard University)
Hazlett Thomas W. (George Mason University)
Heaton John (University of Chicago)
Heckman James (University of Chicago - Nobel Laureate)
Henderson David R. (Hoover Institution)
Henisz, Witold (University of Pennsylvania)
Hertzberg Andrew (Columbia University)
Hite Gailen (Columbia University)
Hitsch Günter J. (University of Chicago)
Hodrick Robert J. (Columbia University)
Hollifield Burton (Carnegie Mellon University)
Hopenhayn Hugo (UCLA)
Hurst Erik (University of Chicago)
Imrohoroglu Ayse (University of Southern California)
Isakson Hans (University of Northern Iowa)
Israel Ronen (London Business School)
Jaffee Dwight M. (UC Berkeley)
Jagannathan Ravi (Northwestern University)
Jenter Dirk (Stanford University)
Jones Charles M. (Columbia Business School)
Jovanovic Boyan (New York University)
Kaboski Joseph P. (Ohio State University)
Kahn Matthew (UCLA)
Kaplan Ethan (Stockholm University)
Karaivanov Alexander (Simon Fraser University)
Karolyi, Andrew (Ohio State University)
Kashyap Anil (University of Chicago)
Keim Donald B (University of Pennsylvania)
Ketkar Suhas L (Vanderbilt University)
Kiesling Lynne (Northwestern University)
Klenow Pete (Stanford University)
Koch Paul (University of Kansas)
Kocherlakota Narayana (University of Minnesota)
Koijen Ralph S.J. (University of Chicago)
Kondo Jiro (Northwestern University)
Korteweg Arthur (Stanford University)
Kortum Samuel (University of Chicago)
Krueger Dirk (University of Pennsylvania)
Ledesma Patricia (Northwestern University)
Lee Lung-fei (Ohio State University)
Leeper Eric M. (Indiana University)
Letson David (University of Miami)
Leuz Christian (University of Chicago)
Levine David I.(UC Berkeley)
Levine David K.(Washington University)
Levy David M. (George Mason University)
Linnainmaa Juhani (University of Chicago)
Lott John R. Jr. (University of Maryland)
Lucas Robert (University of Chicago - Nobel Laureate)
Ludvigson, Sydney C. (New York University)
Luttmer Erzo G.J. (University of Minnesota)
Manski Charles F. (Northwestern University)
Martin Ian (Stanford University)
Mayer Christopher (Columbia University)
Mazzeo Michael (Northwestern University)
McDonald Robert (Northwestern University)
Meadow Scott F. (University of Chicago)
Meeropol, Michael (Western New England College)
Mehra Rajnish (UC Santa Barbara)
Mian Atif (University of Chicago)
Middlebrook Art (University of Chicago)
Miguel Edward (UC Berkeley)
Miravete Eugenio J. (University of Texas at Austin)
Miron Jeffrey (Harvard University)
Moeller, Thomas (Texas Christian University)
Moretti Enrico (UC Berkeley)
Moriguchi Chiaki (Northwestern University)
Moro Andrea (Vanderbilt University)
Morse Adair (University of Chicago)
Mortensen Dale T. (Northwestern University)
Mortimer Julie Holland (Harvard University)
Moskowitz, Tobias J. (University of Chicago)
Munger Michael C. (Duke University)
Muralidharan Karthik (UC San Diego)
Nair Harikesh (Stanford University)
Nanda Dhananjay (University of Miami)
Nevo Aviv (Northwestern University)
Ohanian Lee (UCLA)
Pagliari Joseph (University of Chicago)
Papanikolaou Dimitris (Northwestern University)
Parker Jonathan (Northwestern University)
Paul Evans (Ohio State University)
Pearce David (New York University)
Pejovich Svetozar (Steve) (Texas A&M University)
Peltzman Sam (University of Chicago)
Perri Fabrizio (University of Minnesota)
Phelan Christopher (University of Minnesota)
Piazzesi Monika (Stanford University)
Pippenger, Michael K. (University of Alaska)
Piskorski Tomasz (Columbia University)
Platt Brennan C. (Brigham Young University)
Rampini Adriano (Duke University)
Ray, Debraj (New York University)
Reagan Patricia (Ohio State University)
Reich Michael (UC Berkeley)
Reuben Ernesto (Northwestern University)
Rizzo, Mario (New York University)
Roberts Michael (University of Pennsylvania)
Robinson David (Duke University)
Rogers Michele (Northwestern University)
Rotella Elyce (Indiana University)
Roussanov Nikolai (University of Pennsylvania)
Routledge Bryan R. (Carnegie Mellon University)
Ruud Paul (Vassar College)
Safford Sean (University of Chicago)
Samaniego Roberto (George Washington University)
Sandbu Martin E. (University of Pennsylvania)
Sapienza Paola (Northwestern University)
Savor Pavel (University of Pennsylvania)
Schaniel William C. (University of West Georgia)
Scharfstein David (Harvard University)
Seim Katja (University of Pennsylvania)
Seru Amit (University of Chicago)
Shang-Jin Wei (Columbia University)
Shimer Robert (University of Chicago)
Shore Stephen H. (Johns Hopkins University)
Siegel Ron (Northwestern University)
Smith David C. (University of Virginia)
Smith Vernon L.(Chapman University- Nobel Laureate)
Sorensen Morten (Columbia University)
Spatt Chester (Carnegie Mellon University)
Spear Stephen (Carnegie Mellon University)
Stevenson Betsey (University of Pennsylvania)
Stokey Nancy (University of Chicago)
Strahan Philip (Boston College)
Strebulaev Ilya (Stanford University)
Sufi Amir (University of Chicago)
Tabarrok Alex (George Mason University)
Taylor Alan M. (UC Davis)
Thompson Tim (Northwestern University)
Troske Kenneth (University of Kentucky)
Tschoegl Adrian E. (University of Pennsylvania)
Uhlig Harald (University of Chicago)
Ulrich, Maxim (Columbia University)
Van Buskirk Andrew (University of Chicago)
Vargas Hernan (University of Phoenix)
Veronesi Pietro (University of Chicago)
Vissing-Jorgensen Annette (Northwestern University)
Wacziarg Romain (UCLA)
Walker Douglas O. (Regent University)
Walker, Todd (Indiana University)
Weill Pierre-Olivier (UCLA)
Williamson Samuel H. (Miami University)
Witte Mark (Northwestern University)
Wolfenzon, Daniel (Columbia University)
Wolfers Justin (University of Pennsylvania)
Woutersen Tiemen (Johns Hopkins University)
Wu Yangru (Rutgers University)
Yue Vivian Z. (New York University)
Zingales Luigi (University of Chicago)
Zitzewitz Eric (Dartmouth College)

http://faculty.chicagogsb.edu/john.cochrane/research/Papers/mortgage_protest.htm

This is all extremely serious. But hey, these academics were part of the creation of this mess too having helped provide the theoretical-basis for such unscrupulous economic policies and practices (note that they went to the troubled to defend the entire doctrinal underpinning of the economic order in their statement), but a little CYA doesn't hurt.

With the public angry--and getting angrier every day--you have to have all your bases covered. As we should all know, any given country is just three meals away from insurrection, but what if the cable goes out? What if there's no electricity? Americans tend to explode over these things, nevermind losing all of their savings, their jobs, and any other form of income. That's more than just a crisis, it's a threshold moment where things are never going to be quite the same again. The opportunities for substantial change are immense, but...

This contention of a "coup" just seems to be coming from out of nowhere, it makes no sense, and frankly stinks of panic and misinformation.

If you have working eyes, ears, and the ability to comprehend, you can hear the fear in the voices of the politicians and see it in their eyes. Sec. of the Treasury Henry Paulson shows every sign of the hunted man or someone who knows that bookie is coming to collect. President George W. Bush shows every sign of being absolutely terrified and worn-down by the potential of all of this--namely impeachment hearings, prosecutions, no more media protection, no more backing on Capitol Hill (already a fait accompli), and so on.

No, if anything, "the coup" is dying a very rapid death at its own hands. "The coup" began long before 2000, well before the disastrous tenure of George W. Bush, having its roots in the sale of poisoned whiskey to Native Americans, the swindling of their lands, and the exploitation of Black Americans and the rest of the working-class for generations. This took-on a very strong inertia after the American Civil War, turning former slaves and yeoman farmers into "wage-slaves" for an industrialized North, chaining us all through the shortsighted machinations of Wall Street and Washington to consumer products.

Welcome to reality, Americans, it's been waiting for you. "It doesn't affect me," won't float anymore, and that's a good thing. Now it does "affect you," and there's nothing anyone can do except to confront it. Both parties made this mess, but the GOP pushed for no oversight into our financial markets, and they still are. That should tell everyone how to vote on November 4.

Postscript, 11.17.2008: Naomi Klein was also putting-out those "coup rumors" at the same time. Get a grip people. Klein's cute, and I'm sure some of what she writes in her best selling paranoia tomes is right, and she's from Toronto, so I'm predisposed to like her. Still, this shit is wrong, it's reactionary, and it makes me wonder if these folks are turning-into Father Coughlin and Huey Long, it's wacky.

Hey, Klein's been on Alex Jone's radio show, so she must have something wrong with her. She's cute like a lot of Canadian women are, though, and she's got a cute ass, and I have a yen for Jewish girls. Take Jones seriously? You gotta be kiddin' me, man. Even when he's right, he's wrong, and when he's really right, it's a statistical error and basically on-accident. Money--that's what it''s all about, so go do the hokey-pokey and throw Alex some dough. You ain't got any in the "new economy"? At least he and his ilk lose. "Schadenfreude"? Ja, schadenfreudengasm.

Postscript and correction 02.18.2009: The actual offender here was Naomi Wolf, not Klein! However, Klein's own recent writings support this kind of contention, and I disagree with her overall analysis on "disaster capitalism," one could apply it to numerous other forms of economy and civilization at various points in human history. When things are destroyed, you rebuild, or you don't have a civilization or a system left anymore.