In the election of 1952 my father voted for Dwight Eisenhower. When I asked him why he explained that “FDR’s debt” was still burdening the economy—and that I and my children and my grandchildren would be paying it down for as long as we lived.
I was only six years old and had no idea what a “debt” was, let alone FDR’s. But I had nightmares about it for weeks.
Yet as the years went by my father stopped talking about “FDR’s debt,” and since I was old enough to know something about economics I never worried about it. My children have never once mentioned FDR’s debt. My four-year-old grandchild hasn’t uttered a single word about it.
The financial services industry is second to none in dreaming up ways to rip off Americans. Show me a a financial product—credit cards, mortgages, checking accounts, 401(k)s, annuities—and I'll show you a stack of consumer complaints documenting how banks and other firms have sought to bleed dry the American public.
These are heady times for the bipartisan group of reformers seeking a safer and more manageable U.S. financial system. The leaders of this movement, Senators Sherrod Brown and David Vitter, introduced legislation yesterday to force the biggest banks to foot the bill for their own mistakes by imposing higher capital requirements.
Three developments in finance cropped up in the last days that must be read as a single story.
First, Blankfein, Dimon, and the rest of the Wall Street bigwigs visited the White House to meet with the president and his team. That team consisted of Denis McDonough (Chief of Staff); Valerie Jarrett (Senior Adviser); Cecilia Munoz (Domestic Policy Adviser); Gene Sperling (National Economic Council Director); and Alan Krueger, (Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers). The meeting was secret, but we can deduce much from its attendance.
I recently published an article in response to a study of high-frequency trading (“HFT”) by Professor Charles M. Jones of Columbia Business School and an opinion piece he published simultaneously in Politico. My article focused on the funding of the research by Citadel LLP, a major HFT user. It also pointed out broad concerns about the study, which asserts that computer-based algorithmic trading provides substantial net value to the economy.
Last week, Professor Charles M. Jones, a noted economist at Columbia, published an opinion piece in POLITICO claiming to enlighten readers on the realities of high-frequency trading (or “HFT”), computer driven trading at millisecond speeds driven by complex algorithms based on complex trading strategies. This has surfaced as the subject of politically charged debate in the context of of a proposed financial transaction tax that would, among other things, curb the most excessive forms of HFT.
Last night, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a searing 300-page report on JP Morgan Chase’s London Whale episode. The bank lost at least $6.2 billion through trading credit derivatives in a business unit tasked with reducing firm-wide risk, the Chief Investment Office. (The trading activity is called the “Synthetic Credit Portfolio” or “SCP.”) There is much to digest in the report. Hearings are to commence today.
When a crew that calls themselves the "Systemic Risk Council" speaks, it's a good idea to pay attention. After all, the last time people pooh-poohed deep-seated problems within the financial system, trillions of dollars vanished into thin air and millions of people were thrown out of work.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department and 16 state attorneys general sued the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) credit-rating agency, accusing the company of improperly inflating the ratings of 40 collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)—essentially, securities made up of other mortgage-backed securities—at the height of the housing bubble. According to the suit, S&P misled investors by rating the risky securities as "triple-A," super-safe investments. But the purchases turned into massive investor losses when the bonds failed after the bubble collapsed.
I’m trying to remain optimistic that the president and congressional Democrats will hold their ground over the next month as we approach the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
But leading those negotiations for the White House is outgoing Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner, whom Monday’s Wall Street Journaldescribed as a “pragmatic deal maker” because of “his long relationship with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, for whom balancing the budget was a priority over other Democratic touchstones.”
As we celebrate Occupy Wall Street’s first birthday, the movement's pivoted from financial regulation to focus on crushing consumer debt. While reforming debt is crucial (particularly student debt), finance remains an imminent threat to the American economy. We shouldn't forget it.
There's little evidence that Wall Street's changed since 2008. The drumbeat of flagrant financial crimes has continued unabated in the year since Occupy Wall Street’s inception. As Senior Fellow Wallace Turbeville aptly illustrates, the culture of the "alpha" remains.
It's almost four years since the economy cratered, yet 11 million homes—accounting for 23 percent of all outstanding mortgages— remain underwater. The Obama administration's efforts to shore up the housing market by offering incentives for refinancing, rather than the government directly purchasing loans, has been an utter failure; countless homeowners have been left desperately negotiating with their lenders to modify the terms of their loan and more often than not, being tossed onto the street by mortgage servicers.