Free Markets, Free People

Economy


Quote Of The Day

Disgust is a bi-partisan concept. Michael Goodwin again:

Ronald Reagan’s famous line that “government is the problem” kept going through my head as the AIG hearing demonstrated the dangers of Washington’s role in the economy. The very people, Republicans and Democrats alike, who can’t balance America’s budget now claim the expertise to run banks, insurance companies and automakers.

If we let them, we’re dumber than they are.

Amen.

~McQ


Quote Of The Day

Even AP seems to be figuring it out. Here’s an analysis by AP’s David Espo discussing the AIG debacle:

Which goes to the crux of the Democrats’ current political problem.

Gone are the days when they could merely bludgeon the Bush administration and promise to seek bipartisan solutions to the nation’s economic problems.

Now, in control of the White House and Congress, they are struggling to come up with an explanation for what no one in either party seems moved to defend.

You can’t help but snicker a bit, can you?

~McQ


AIG Bonuses: Dodd Cracks, Geithner Knew

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary magazine’s blog rounds up the latest info on who knew what about the AIG bonuses.  It’s not pretty, but, of course, we knew it wouldn’t be.

The bottom line: Dodd, after denying it, now admits he and the administration cooked up the language which afforded AIG some protection ( until the firestorm hit) to grant the bonuses.

Time magazine also reports:

Although Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told congressional leaders on Tuesday that he learned of AIG’s impending $160 million bonus payments to members of its troubled financial-products unit on March 10, sources tell TIME that the New York Federal Reserve informed Treasury staff that the payments were imminent on Feb. 28. That is 10 days before Treasury staffers say they first learned “full details” of the bonus plan, and three days before the Administration launched a new $30 billion infusion of cash for AIG. [Emphasis mine.--EDF]

It’s such a relief to have the “best and brightest” running the show, isn’t it?


AIG: What Did They Know And When Did They Know It?

Edward Liddy, CEO of AIG, has a piece in the Washington Post today.  It is useful for a couple of reasons, one of which is to try to nail down the timeline in this dustup.

But first, this from another Washington Post article:

Senior White House officials said last night that President Obama did not learn that bonuses worth $165 million were to be paid to executives of American International Group until Thursday, one day before they were issued and two days after his Treasury secretary was informed that the payments were going forward.

A point or two to remember. One – $55 million had already been paid out under the very same plan in December of last year with little or no coverage. This wasn’t something new nor should it have been a surprise. This was a plan that was already in place and one has to assume, unless they weren’t doing their jobs, known to the appropriate people in the administration (not necessarily Obama, but at least Geithner).

That brings us back to the Liddy piece. Liddy joined AIG in September of 2008 to begin the difficult task of saving the insurance giant and structuring it so it was again profitable and able to pay the taxpayer funded bailout money back as quickly as possible. There’s a very telling paragraph in Liddy’s piece which makes the point that the plan which is such a huge surprise to the Treasury Secretary and President shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone:

To prevent undue risk exposure in the meantime, AIG has made a set of retention payments to employees based on a compensation system that prior management put in place. As has been reported, payments were made to employees in the Financial Products unit. Make no mistake, had I been chief executive at the time, I would never have approved the retention contracts that were put in place more than a year ago. It was distasteful to have to make these payments. But we concluded that the risks to the company, and therefore the financial system and the economy, were unacceptably high.

In the meantime, AIG has restructured its 2009 compensation system (note the use of the word “compensation” by Liddy and not “bonuses”) and made all the cuts and changes I noted yesterday.

The fact that this is just another part of the same plan that paid out $55 million last year without a peep, was in place, per Liddy prior to his assuming the Chairmanship and has been in place for at least a year strongly argues one of two things – A) someone is not telling the truth about when they “knew” this latest payment was going to take place or B) someone was not doing their job and is now trying to cover that up like a cat covering crap.

Obama aides defended Timothy F. Geithner’s handling of the situation yesterday, with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs saying the president has “complete confidence” in the Treasury chief.

Sounds like a “heck of a job, Brownie” moment to me.

~McQ


Underlining “Contradictory and Confusing”

No one with any sense is going to argue that AIG should be doing what it is doing or that the insurance giant isn’t absolutely tone-deaf to the dirge playing within the economy. But the effort and the PR agenda to reclaim the bonus money pursued by our new president just underscores the “confusion and contradiction” his actions and words engender.

President Obama vowed to try to stop the faltering insurance giant American International Group from paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to executives, as the administration scrambled to avert a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street that could complicate Mr. Obama’s economic recovery agenda.

We’re talking “hundreds of millions” of dollars here. But when confronted by a omnibus spending bill with hundreds of billions of dollars in 9,000 pork projects, meh, no biggie – “last year’s business.”

~McQ


Reaping, Sowing, etc.

Glad they finally noticed:

The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, worried that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Obama’s agenda.

Of course the greatest stoker of this populist backlash has been the Obama administration. I’ll be the first to agree that some of the financial institutions, such as AIG recently, have played into the populist condemnation by the administration, but instead of being specific about the AIGs of the world, they have instead gone after an entire industry to the point that “banks and Wall Street” are synonymous with crooks, swindlers and liars. Having established that narrative, seemingly purposely, there’s now a huge backlash building which may, in fact, cripple the administration’s efforts pertaining to both.

“We’ve got enormous problems that need to be addressed,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, said in an interview. “And it’s hard to address because there’s a lot of anger about the irresponsibility that led us to this point.”

“This has been welling up for a long time,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s aides said any surge of such a sentiment could complicate efforts to win Congressional approval for the additional bailout packages that Mr. Obama has signaled will be necessary to stabilize the banking system.

As it is, there have already been moves in Congress to limit compensation to executives at banks and Wall Street firms that are receiving government help to survive.

Beyond that, a shifting political mood challenges Mr. Obama’s political skills, as he seeks to acknowledge the anger without becoming a target of it. A central question for Mr. Obama is whether his cool style — “in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger,” he said in his address to Congress last month — will prove effective when the country may be feeling more emotional.

And the country is feeling emotional because the administration has been making emotional arguments targeting the industry it wants to help. Not very smart politics. And they’ve now finally realized that.

“Never underestimate the capacity of angry populism in times of economic stress,” said Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “A big challenge for President Obama will be to maintain a rational and tactical public discussion in the midst of this severe downturn. The desire for culprits at times like this is strong.”

The “culprit” has been identified. In their desire to escape blame, government officials in Congress and elsewhere have almost unanimously used their access to the media to vilify banks and Wall Street while pretending they had no hand whatsoever in this debacle. Unfortunately they’ve been quite successful in the scapegoating. However, having established the narrative, they now have to attempt to reverse it because the public rage they’ve helped stoke may prevent them from doing what they think they need to do to turn the financial industry around.

The entire problem that the administration is now recognizing is one of their own making and another indication of their inexperience and lack of foresight. It’s one thing to demonize such industries when campaigning, it is, as they’re learning, an entirely different thing when you do it as the President of the United States. The administration now has to figure out how to reverse a narrative they helped build and establish. That should be interesting to watch.

~McQ


“The Brokest Generation” – something that every under-30-year-old ought to read

There are plenty of good writers around, but there are only a few who cause me to pause during reading and think “Oh, how I wish I could write like that.”

Mark Steyn is in that group. Just about anything he writes is worth reading, and he is the best in the business at being funny and thought-provoking at the same time.

Occasionally, though, he captures the essence of an issue in a way no other current writer can. His current article at National Review, “The Brokest Generation“, is in that category. Go read it yourself, and then pass it along to the folks who are going to be paying for the folly of the Obama years (and the somewhat-lesser follies of the administrations that preceeded him).

It’s true irony that the chanting, swaying kids in the creepy Obama videos will be the ones who pay the highest price for Obama’s fumbling foolishness. Per Mark:

As Lord Keynes observed, “In the long run we’re all dead.” Well, most of us will be. But not you youngsters, not for a while. So we’ve figured it out: You’re the ultimate credit market, and the rest of us are all pre-approved!

The Bailout and the TARP and the Stimulus and the Multi-Trillion Budget and TARP 2 and Stimulus 2 and TARP And Stimulus Meet Frankenstein and the Wolf Man are like the old Saturday-morning cliffhanger serials your grandpa used to enjoy. But now he doesn’t have to grab his walker and totter down to the Rialto, because he can just switch on the news and every week there’s his plucky little hero Big Government facing the same old crisis: Why, there’s yet another exciting spending bill with twelve zeroes on the end, but unfortunately there seems to be some question about whether they have the votes to pass it. Oh, no! And then, just as the fate of another gazillion dollars of pork and waste hangs in the balance, Arlen Specter or one of those lady-senators from Maine dashes to the cliff edge and gives a helping hand, and phew, this week’s spendapalooza sails through. But don’t worry, there’ll be another exciting episode of Trillion-Buck Rogers of the 21st Century next week!

This is a connection we need to be making over and over again: when the mountain of federal debt finally collapses of its own weight, the younger generation will be hurt the worst. Most of the people who fomented the crisis will have long since passed on, or be comfortable in their retirement because of the assets they were able to accrue at taxpayer and lobbyist expense. They will have gotten what they wanted: time in the sun, running things, letting others pay them obeisance, getting respect they don’t really deserve. Either they are too stupid to realize what they are doing to the next couple of generations, or they are too mendacious to care. The sooner the younger generations learn the con job that has been perpetrated on them, the better.


20/20 and Reason: “Bailouts & Bull”

Last night’s episode of 20/20 was one of the best I’ve ever seen. John Stossel took on several topics, such as taxpayer-funded bailouts, transportation, medicinal marijuana, universal pre-kindergarten and immigration. Many of the segments are based on and include footage from The Drew Carey Project from Reason TV. Stossel also interviews Drew Carey in some of the segments.

The they are six videos (five below the cut). The first one deals with bailouts. Stossel talks to 18 economists about why the “stimulus” was a bad idea. He asks House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer if debt got us into this recession, then why is creating more debt going to get us out? One economist says that one dollar taken out of the economy is one less dollar to be spent in the private sector.

The second video deals with transportation, and actually starts off in Atlanta (my hometown), and is based on this video from Reason TV. It highlights private toll roads built in Orange County, California, Paris, Chicago and Indiana.

This segment is on medicinal marijuana and Charlie Lynch and is based on this Reason TV video. Lynch owned a medicinal marijuana dispensary in California, which is legal under state law. He was arrested by DEA agents for helping sick people and is now awaiting sentencing, up to a hundred years in jail.

This is the segment on universal pre-kindergarten, a promise made by Barack Obama during his campaign. It’s based in part on this Reason TV video.

Here’s the segment on immigration, which is based on a Reason TV video. Stossel shows how the gate is useless because illegal immigrants still manage to get around it, either by climbing over it or cutting holes in it. Stossel talks to both Duncan Hunter and his son, Duncan Hunter, Jr., about why it is necessary. The younger Hunter asks Stossel, “What is it worth to the American people to not have another 9/11?” Stossel says the fence wouldn’t have stopped 9/11 (the 9/11 hijackers came in the country legally). Hunter says, “It may stop the next 9/11.” Gotta love the fear mongering.

Here’s the final segment of the episode. It talks about how easy it is to make it in American if you live within your means and is based on this Reason TV video.


Understatement of the Week

China expresses some … um … “concern” about whether or not it will ever see its money back:

The Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, expressed unusually blunt concern on Friday about the safety of China’s $1 trillion investment in American government debt, the world’s largest such holding, and urged the Obama administration to provide assurances that the securities would maintain their value in the face of a global financial crisis.

"How much chance China get repaid?"

How much chance China get repaid?\


Speaking ahead of a meeting of finance ministers and bankers this weekend in London to lay the groundwork for next month’s G20 summit, Mr. Wen said he was “worried” about China’s holdings of United States Treasury bonds and other debt, and that China was watching economic developments in the United States closely.

“President Obama and his new government have adopted a series of measures to deal with the financial crisis. We have expectations as to the effects of these measures,” Mr. Wen said. “We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried.”

Just a little? There’s an old saying to the effect of “if you owe the bank $1 Million, then the bank owns you; if you owe the bank $1 Trillion, then you own the bank.” China’s feeling pretty nervous because it knows it can’t sell its holdings except at a tremendous loss — both from the normal discount expected, and from the fact that it is by far the largest mover in the market (e.g. what do you think would happen to Microsoft stock if Bill Gates started selling off?) — and it doesn’t see a whole lot coming out of Washington to instill confidence.

But there’s no need to fret PM Jiabao! Unnamed economists are here to save the day:

While economists dismissed the possibility of the United States defaulting on its obligations, they said China could face steep losses in the event of a sharp rise in United States interest rates or a plunge in the value of the dollar.

Whew! That was close. Nothing but a little market risk to worry about there, Jiabao. Default? Pffft … never gonna happen.

Back in the land called “reality” however, default is plays a bigger part since, aside from reneging on the debt, there are only three other ways for the government to pay for its spending binge: higher taxes, printing more money, or borrowing. Higher taxes impedes growth and leads to less revenue. Printing money leads to hyper-inflation. So, even though those two choices will be used to a certain extent, further borrowing is the only viable alternative to default. But who’s going to lend to us?

Maybe China?

The bulk of China’s investment in the United States consists of bonds issued by the Treasury and government-sponsored enterprises and purchased by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which is part of the People’s Bank of China … much of the Treasury debt China purchased in recent years carries a low interest rate, and would plunge in value if interest rates were to rise sharply in the United States. Some financial experts have warned that measures taken to combat the financial crisis — running large budget deficits and expanding the money supply — may eventually create price inflation, which would lead to higher interest rates.

This puts the Chinese government in a difficult position. The smaller the United States stimulus, the less its borrowing, which could help prevent interest rates from rising. But less government spending in the United States could also mean a slower recovery for the American economy and reduced American demand for Chinese goods.

It may just be the case that China’s best option is to support its investment by propping up its best customer with yet more loans. Unfortunately, that means that Washington will have little incentive to slow down spending (since it owns the bank). The nasty little cycle of borrowing > spending > inflation > rising interest rates > falling dollar, will continue necessitating even more borrowing. China, in turn, will have serious questions about the value of its investment, and the US will start having serious discussions about declaring a default.

In short, China’s not just “worried” about the current fiscal mess. It’s crapping its collectivist shorts.


The False Premise of “Properly” Spent “Stimulus” Money

President Obama and VP Biden are going to be watching you:

Obama and Biden both gave stern warnings yesterday about misuse of stimulus funds. “If we see money being misspent, we’re going to put a stop to it,” Obama told a gathering of state officials at the White House. How? Obama says “we will call it out and we will publicize it.” Biden, meanwhile, scolded: “If we don’t get this right, folks, this is the end of the opportunity to convince Congress that anything should go to the states.”

Of course, these were words spoken to representatives of states getting “stimulus” money.

Lost in the shuffle is the fact that there is no one to shout “BS” to the whole scheme and declare it all “misspent” money. A $787 billion dollar social spending scheme isn’t money “misspent?” Hah!

But other than that, I think Earl Devaney provides us with the ground truth about this upcoming spending debacle:

The chief watchdog for spending from the $787 billion stimulus package says it’s guaranteed there will be waste and fraud.

Earl Devaney, tapped by President Obama to track the giant spending plan, also said it will be at least a year before the government gets recovery.gov, the Web site the administration has touted as a key part of its transparency, up and running properly.

“I’m afraid that there may be a naive impression that given the amount of transparency and accountability called for by this act, no or little fraud will occur.

A “naive impression?”

Heh … nah, you don’t say?

The word “naive” seems to describe a lot of what is going on right now with the Obama administration.

~McQ