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Showing posts from December, 2008

The Real Reasons Why Hank Paulson Screwed Up

For Hank Paulson's detractors (and there are many), the U.S. Treasury Secretary's main mistakes in dealing with the 2009 financial crisis often boil down to: 1. Letting Lehman Brothers go bankrupt. 2. Relying on an ad hoc approach: one day the $700 billion bailout is about buying bad assets, the next it's about recapitalizing struggling banks (remember the quote from a Washington lawmaker accusing him of flying a $700 billion plane by the seat of his pants).

But is this really where the former Goldman Sachs chairman blundered?

First, Lehman Brothers: Did its collapse really play such a large role in ushering in the nuclear winter in credit markets? It's not that hard to imagine that, absent a Lehman going belly up, a different bankruptcy or dire event would have brought us to the same juncture. Remember too that Lehman was revealed to be in worse shape than anyone imagined: its bonds wound up fetching a paltry nine cents on the dollar. Its implosion spooked markets partl…

Anything Goes

Read this December 18 news flash from The American Banker:A New York private equity firm has agreed to invest $250 million in Flagstar Bancorp, gaining 70% ownership of the thrift company. But the deal’s completion hinges on Flagstar receiving an additional $250 million from the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.I do not know the specifics of the transaction. But note the gist of the story. A private firm and the U.S. Treasury are both to invest $250 million in a bank, with the private firm getting 70% of the company.

That is why I called this entry Anything Goes. If you are a U.S. citizen, you can also read it as Your Tax Dollars at Work.

Experts to the Rescue

Here is why I constantly emphasize the importance of theory:
A complete overhaul of banking regulation is needed in the wake of the global financial crisis, and one of the aims should be to insulate the real economy from the effects of future banking crises, according to some of the world’s top economists ... Robert Solow, who won the 1987 Nobel prize for economics, said: “I would like to see a regulatory system aimed at insulating the real economy from financial innovation in so far as that is possible”.There you have it. Some of the world’s top economists, including at least one Nobel prize winner, think that the “real economy” can be insulated from banking and finance, and they are proposing to do just that in order to contain the financial crisis – “so far as that is possible,” of course.

One has to go back to the Middle Ages and the views of the priests about the solar system to find so great a chasm between the reality and its false reflection in human mind. But those priests at…

More on Merton and the “Collapse of the Whole Intellectual Edifice”

A couple of readers wrote to ask how I could blame one man for a such a large-scale financial collapse. Had I not said many times that the subject of finance is capital in circulation and not people? How could that assertion be reconciled with the claim that Merton single-handedly – whether consciously or not – brought about the downfall of the so-called Anglo-American financial system?

Merton’s idea about riskless portfolio earning riskless rate pertained to a definite point in the historical development of finance capital in which, thanks to its continuous growth and eventual dominance of financial markets, it claimed “recognition” on par with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. Merton was simply the vessel for that expression. He was, you could say, chosen by fate. Like Oedipus, his deed was inflicted upon him rather than committed by him.

(In saying that finance capital claimed recognition on par with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, I am not creating…

“The Collapse of the Whole Intellectual Edifice”

Things were moving at last, the Colonel said; as for himself he was putting every cent he could scrape up, beg or borrow, into options. He even suggested that Ward send him a little money to invest for him, now that he was in a position to risk a stake on the surety of a big turnover; risk wasn’t the word because the whole situation was sewed up in a bag; nothing to do but shake the tree and let the fruit fall into their mouths.John Dos Passos in 42nd Parallel
You have no doubt noticed the theoretical bent of this blog. I refer to Rumi and T.S. Eliot, share my philosophical musings and write about the descent of man and the philosophers of our time. In the midst of a financial crisis, such seeming detachment from the events in the world of finance from a blog dedicated to finance could seem odd, the kind of stuff that gives Ivory Tower intellectualism a bad name.

But the underlying theory here is both serious and necessary. It is serious because its aim is to drag the reader into the su…

I’m Still Around

My apologies for the longer-than-usual absence. Blame it on an event out of my control and a decision within my control. The event produced three fractured bones in my left arm. The decision pertained to a topic that proved difficult for a blog. I have discussed it in some length in the forthcoming Vol. 4 but had a hard time summarizing it for this space.

The pain in my arm is reduced to a tolerable level. The 3000-word entry is ready. After giving it a once over, I will post it tomorrow.

Thanks for understanding.