Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

Stiglitz Calls Geithner Plan “Ersatz Capitalism”

A number of economists, including Paul Krugman, have panned Timothy Geithner’s plan to recapitalize banks by buying toxic assets in a complex and highly leveraged way that puts the taxpayer’s dollars at risk.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel economist, has piled on. In fact, his is probably the most damning opinion I’ve seen. Stiglitz says that first of all, Geithner has analyzed the problem incorrectly. Geithner keeps telling us it is a “liquidity” problem. Stiglitz says “poppycock”:

The main problem is not a lack of liquidity. If it were, then a far simpler program would work: just provide the funds without loan guarantees. The real issue is that the banks made bad loans in a bubble and were highly leveraged. They have lost their capital, and this capital has to be replaced.

What he means is their “capital”, or assets are in worthless loans. Yes that’s right – worthless. So, as he points out, paying “fair market value” for these assets won’t work, will it? They’re worthless.

So what does Geithner propose?

Only by overpaying for the assets will the banks be adequately recapitalized. But overpaying for the assets simply shifts the losses to the government. In other words, the Geithner plan works only if and when the taxpayer loses big time.

Stiglitz explains the proposed process very well, demonstrating it fairly simple and straightforward examples how the taxpayer takes the majority of the risk, and, given the nature off the “assets”, will absorb the majority of the losses.

But Americans are likely to lose even more than these calculations suggest, because of an effect called adverse selection. The banks get to choose the loans and securities that they want to sell. They will want to sell the worst assets, and especially the assets that they think the market overestimates (and thus is willing to pay too much for).

But the market is likely to recognize this, which will drive down the price that it is willing to pay. Only the government’s picking up enough of the losses overcomes this “adverse selection” effect. With the government absorbing the losses, the market doesn’t care if the banks are “cheating” them by selling their lousiest assets, because the government bears the cost.

That is a process driven problem. The Geithner process guarantees the outcome because that is the most likely outcome, banks not being stupid and with the government bearing the cost.

Bottom line – taxpayers are going to get hosed and hosed good.

Stiglitz provides an interesting alternative which gives you an idea of how poorly he regards Geithner’s plan:

Some Americans are afraid that the government might temporarily “nationalize” the banks, but that option would be preferable to the Geithner plan. After all, the F.D.I.C. has taken control of failing banks before, and done it well.

Given only those two option, I’d say Stiglitz has a point.

Of course, the argument we’ve made since day one is we ought to let them go bust, get it over with and begin the recovery. That’s the same argument we made concerning GM and Chrysler.

Instead we’ve gotten these insane plans driven by the administration which has thrown literally trillions of good dollars after bad – and to no apparent avail.

This madness has got to stop.


China Toughens Stance On Greenhouse Gas Emissions

China has stated it won’t be left holding the financial bag in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Calling itself a “poorer” nation, China wants the 7 most developed countries to spend 1% of GDP on helping them and others.

China raised the price of its co-operation in the world’s climate change talks yesterday by calling for developed countries to spend 1 per cent of their domestic product helping poorer nations cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The funding – amounting to more than $300bn (£190bn, €240bn) based on Group of Seven countries – would be spent largely on the transfer of “green” technologies, such as renewable energy, to poorer countries.

Gao Guangsheng, head of the climate change office at the National Reform and Development Commission, the Chinese government’s main planning body, said that even such large funds “might not be enough”.

China’s toughened stance comes weeks ahead of United Nations talks in Poland aimed at forging a successor to the Kyoto protocol, whose main provisions expire in 2012.

China also suggests that to this point, emissions reduction has been mostly talk:

“Climate change policies need a lot of money to be invested, however developed countries have not made any substantive promises about how much they are going to spend on,” said Mr Gao. “And they did not fulfil some of the promises they made in the past very well either.”

Of course a number of reasons relate to why those previous promises haven’t been fulfilled. Most of them relate to economics and the realization that their promises are potentially crippling to their economies. That’s effecting the G20 meeting as we speak:

Fears are mounting that environmental issues could be almost entirely sidelined at tomorrow’s G20 summit in London as leaders of the world’s largest economies resist calls to make clear green commitments as part of the meeting’s closing communiqué.

According to Guardian reports, UK officials are leading a last-ditch effort to have clear environmental commitments incorporated into the global economic recovery package that will back up politicians’ repeated calls for a ” green new deal”.

Gordon Brown has said that the inclusion of a commitment on the environment would be one of the tests of the summit’s success, but he admitted that the negotiations were likely to be tough.

The draft version of the communiqué leaked at the weekend made only a passing reference to climate change and it is thought some nations are resisting more detailed commitments to dedicate a proportion of the global stimulus package to green projects that they fear could provide an excuse for protectionist measures.

There is also reluctance to incorporate climate change commitments that could be seen to step on the toes of the UN’s climate change negotiations, which are continuing this week at a separate conference in Bonn, Germany.

This, of course, is good news. Why?

“Everybody seems to be focusing on short-term recovery and getting long-term regulation of the banks right,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything that suggests green recovery and climate change are a major part of the [G20] agenda.”

That’s because that is the priority – not that anyone should expect the G20 to get any of financial part of it right either. However, the priority does keep them from making commitments that would cripple economic growth. And they, of course, know that – which is why they’re avoiding it and spinning it as a desire not to “step on the toes of the UN’s climate change negotiations”.

But back to China – you’ll enjoy this. It is called “having your cake and eating it too”:

[China’s climate ambassador Yu Qingtai]… said that China was willing to make a “due contribution” to curbing emissions, but warned that the country would not see its citizens “left in the dark” as a result of binding emission targets and was within its rights to continue to invest in coal power that allows its economy to grow.

Gotta love the Chinese – they make some of our spin merchants seem like rookies. China will decide what its “due contribution” will be while it builds thousands of coal fired plants. In the meantime, per China, it is up to the rest of the world to do what is necessary to curb emissions because, you know, the poorer nations just aren’t up to it. Su Wei, Chinese delegation chief to the UN climate change talks in Bonn:

Su said the success of the Copenhagen summit lies in whether or not the developed countries would make “substantial arrangements” for transferring climate-friendly technologies to and providing funds for developing countries.

Su noted the establishment of three international “mechanisms” is very important among the “substantial arrangements.”

“The first is to set up an international mechanism on climate-friendly technology development and transfer, to eliminate barriers hindering technology transfer, so that developing countries can get access to such technologies,” he said.

“Secondly, we should set up an effective financing mechanism to ensure the developed countries provide adequate funds for developing countries in their bid to cut emissions and fight climate change,” he added.

Thirdly, Su said an “effective supervision mechanism” should beset up to monitor the above-mentioned technology transfer and funding.

Nice. Known as the “you pay, we take” program, this pretty much excuses China (and the rest of the poorer BRIC nations) from doing much of anything. As long as China is convinced that a) enough technology hasn’t been transfered, or b) there hasn’t been enough “effective financing” of the effort, it can c) exempt itself from any cuts while insisting the rest of the developed world stick by its commitments.

Now that is how a master loots your wallet.


Geithner Off By A $100 Billion?

It gives you great confidence in someone when they can’t even tell you how much is  left in a fund which they control.  Apparently Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner thinks he has about $132 billion left in TARP funds.

But the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan federal agency, reports that figure is closer to $32 billion, which is what ABC News and other independent analysts thought.

The Treasury Department continues to insist GAO and others are double-counting commitments and underestimating potential paybacks.

So everyone but Treasury is wrong. I’m willing, at this point, to wait until a final determination is forthcoming, but I have to tell you, if I were a betting person, I wouldn’t be backing Geithner’s position.  And don’t forget how cooperative his department has been with the oversight folks.  


The Obama Budget

Senator Tom Coburn’s office provides a few facts about the budget the Obama administration has submitted to Congress. Budget buster would most likely be a better description:

Total Spending:

Total spending under this budget is $3.9 trillion in 2009, or 28% of GDP, the highest level as a share of GDP since World War II.

Discretionary Spending:

This budget provides $1.2 trillion in discretionary budget authority for FY 2010 and increases discretionary spending by $490 billion over 5 years. Total spending in 2009 is 28 percent of GDP.

Mandatory Spending:

The Democrat budget includes $2.2 trillion in mandatory spending for FY 2010, which includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending.

So there are the basics. And remember the pledge that by 2012 the deficit will be cut in half. Well, with this budget, that doesn’t mean a whole bunch in terms of what’s left in the deficit. It will still most certainly be higher than any deficit prior to this one.

Deficit is one thing, debt is another. Politicians like to use smoke and mirrors with deficit and debt, preferring to ignore debt and talk about how they’re dealing with debt. Well let’s get serious about this – the debt is what we owe, the deficit is just how much more we’re piling up.

Total National Debt Today:

$11.055 trillion

Under the Democrat Budget:

FY 2010: $12.2 trillion
FY 2011: $14.3 trillion
FY 2012: $15.3 trillion
FY 2013: $16.1 trillion
FY 2014: $17.0 trillion

So now we see the bottom line. In FY 2011, we will have more debt than GDP (the US GDP is 13.84 Trillion). And, in all honesty, we don’t have to be – unless we pass this budget. You cannot spend yourself out of debt. And you cannot cure a credit problem by extending more credit.


Public Debt:

This budget adds $4.96 trillion to the public debt by 2014. Debt will be about two-thirds of GDP for the entire budget window, and deficits will be at least $500 billion in each year of the budget window.


The Democrat Budget sets total outlays in FY 2010 at $3.53 trillion and total revenues at $2.29 trillion, for a deficit of $1.24 trillion.

This is truly the beginning of the end. And without cap and trade involved, without universal health care is factored in, just to pay for this mess, taxes are going to go up. The question is how high. And as you’ll see, it’ll be higher than the spin is spinning:

Tax Increases:

Against a baseline that assumes current law tax policy is extended, S. Con. Res. 13 raises taxes by $361 billion and allows for $1.3 trillion in additional tax increases. In addition their budget paves the way for additional tax increases from a proposed cap-and-trade tax in reconciliation.

If you’re wondering where the additional $1.3 trillion in taxation might (will?) come from, Coburn provides a little behind the scenes look at how the Democrats procedurally set up phantom funds that they can initiate through a majority vote anytime they wish to fund favored initiatives:

Deficit Neutral Reserve Funds:

The Democrat budget includes 15 “reserve funds,” which essentially “phantom spending” policy statements that allow the majority to say that they would like to fund a certain initiative. The deficit neutral requirement associated with the reserve funds typically require that taxes be raised in order to pay for the new policy initiative. If all reserve funds were to be fully enacted, total spending would increase by $1.3 trillion, financed by tax increases or spending decreases.

Welcome to “hope and change”. More debt, more spending, bigger deficit, and no end in sight.

Someone will end up paying for all of this mess, and my guess is it will be all of us – for generations.


More “South Park” Truth – The Underpants Gnomes

If you’ve not kept up or been unable to keep up (that’s why we’re here), you’ve probably wondered about the references to the “underpants gnomes” when discussing the banking and auto industry situations.  

Naturally we have precisely the information you need to be in the know.  Just remember, as our own underpants gnomes are discovering, the tricky part is “Phase II”.

The Other Shoe Drops: Union Calls For Obama To Oust Bank CEO

I‘m sure some will find this surprising. Others will say, “yeah, baby!” It certainly is the logical extension of what happened to GM’s CEO. I, for one, still find it to be very disturbing:

On the heels of the resignation of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, the Service Employees International Union is urging President Barack Obama to oust Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis.

“It defies logic, common-sense, and responsible governance to punish the auto industry while letting financial institutions off the hook,” SEIU President Andy Stern said, announcing his call for Lewis’s job Tuesday.

The same could be said for letting the union leadership off the hook.

Aren’t they responsible for declining membership? Aren’t they as much a part of the problem as the management of the auto industry? Why isn’t the SEIU calling for union heads as well?

Of course I ask that facetiously. Obviously we’re now going to hear every whiner and complainer in the world will demand the government fire their boss. Hey, the precedent has been set with one of the worst decisions I’ve seen in a while. Now we begin to see the results of such a blatantly dumb move.

Impressive, no?


You’re Doing A Heck Of A Job, Timmy …

You remember TARP. The “Troubled Asset Rescue Plan”? The plan which the Obama administration and the Treasury Department said they were monitoring closely? In fact, they even put a “watchdog” in charge of its oversight.

Transparency. Oversight. Hope and Change.

And any other buzzword promise that was thrown out there to describe how this administration would be so different from the last.

But apparently all the oversight promised depends heavily on cooperation, not stonewalling, by the Department administering TARP. That would be Treasury:

Looks like the same old stuff to me

Looks like the same old stuff to me

“We do not seem to be a priority for the Treasury Department,” the Congressional Oversight Panel’s Elizabeth Warren told a Senate Finance Committee hearing today.

“We have sent letters. We have requested that there be someone named so that we can get technical information. And so far, we have not been a first priority,” Warren said. “We use what you give us, and we will exercise the leverage given to us by Congress. In part, that’s why I’m here today. I’m here to talk to you about what’s happened so far, what we have discovered so far, the inquiries that we have in mid-stream and for which we continue to await responses.”

Warren, visibly frustrated with a lack of cooperation from the administration, emphasized, “This problem starts with Treasury.”

Now part of the problem, obviously, is that several key positions in Treasury have yet to be filled, over 60 days into the new administration and in the midst of a financial crisis. Apparently that’s not a priority either.

Oh, and you’ll love this:

Neil Barofsky, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, voiced similar concerns.

He noted that his office just conducted a survey of all 364 TARP recipients on their use of government funds, something they had requested Treasury do, only for the Department to decline to do so except in the cases of Citigroup and Bank of America.

“One thing is clear: complaints that it was impractical, impossible, or a waste of time to require banks to detail how they used TARP funds were unfounded,” Barofsky said.

I continue to be unimpressed with Tim Geithner and his management and leadership style. What you’re reading here is totally unacceptable. For once, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said the right thing:

“Unfortunately, despite saying all the right things about open government, the new administration has not made any major changes aimed at making TARP more transparent,” he said. “Moreover, I have heard about potential problems with access to information from all three of the oversight bodies testifying.”

Hope and Change.


Quote Of The Day

The person to whom the Navy recently bestowed the formerly prestigious Distingusihed Public Service Award had this to say:

“If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district,” Mr. Murtha said.

Because, you know, there’s obviously no other way to do that than be corrupt.

Shades of Georgia’s Eugene Talmadge:

 “Sure, I stole. But I stole for you,”