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      Prime Minister Harper pretty much confirmed it: ‘Our laws and police powers need to be strengthened’ Yup.  Never let a crisis go to waste. I’m very sad that MPs and their staff were scared, and I’m sadder that a soldier lost his life.  But one attack does not justify increasing the police state.  However, if [...]
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Sunday: Taking the Top off the Mountain

Digby wonders why the bankers are whining.  They’ve gotten everything they wanted but they’re all upset that Obama is speaking harshly to them.  So, now they’re going to sit on their money and not give him any for his re-election.

Wait!  Why is that a *bad* thing?  If they’re not contributing to his campaign, maybe he and other Democrats will have to start paying attention to what the voters want.  Would that be such a crime?  After all, there are more voters than bankers.  Seems to me that banker money has made it too easy for Democrats to coast instead of doing what they’re supposed to be doing.  So, ok, then, let the bankers keep their money.  And if they give it to Republicans to run a bajillion campaign ads, then Democrats better get on it and do some legislatin’.  But I digress.

So, Digby’s question is a valid one: What drives the bankers to be such whiny Verulka Salt’s who want it all NOW!?  She has a couple of theories that glance at the truth tangentially.  They explain the whininess but not what drives the bankers.  They’re either naive, resentful of populism or arrogant twits.

But if you’ve read my Strategy of No Strategy series, you’ll see if from a different point of view altogether.  The finance class actually consists of a bunch of overqualified strip miners.  They’re overworked, which might explain the number of bad decisions they make, and their compensation system decouples the consequences of their actions from the actions themselves.  They are being paid to make “deals” and the purpose of those deals is to extract “wealth”.  In a way, it’s not that much different from getting into the cab of some giant piece of earth moving equipment and mowing down the side of the mountain and then loading that potential ore onto a conveyor belt to be separated from dirt.  They live in a “company” town and are paid “company scrip”.  It’s a truck system for them as well.  The compensation is not proportional to the amount of work they do, they can be fired at will and they’re never going to leave that mountain because they owe their souls to the company store.  The more they work, the more compensation in bonuses they are promised but it’s never enough.

That’s not to make you feel sorry for them.  That’s just the way it is.  And seeing it for the way it really is can help us get over the very legitimate emotion of wanting to ring their skinny necks right out of their Brooks Brothers suits. We need to separate our feelings of hatred towards them from our understanding of what’s really going on here.

What I see is really going on here with Obama is that he was hired because he is one of them.  He comes from the right school, he has the right pedigree, he had the right connections.  It didn’t matter if he knew nothing about finance.  Just like them, he would get a crash course and learn on the job.  And they have taken this deal with him as far as it would go.  Just like them, Obama has stripped the top of the mountain.  There is no more wealth to be extracted.  Now, the middle class has been mined to death.  It’s exhausted and can no longer generate the wealth that they have been paid to retrieve.  They’re screwed.  The owners (ironically, that would be some of us shareholders through our 401Ks) want more money.  There’s no more to give.  It’s a vicious circle because generating more wealth for us, the shareholders, means laying more of us off, which means less wealth going into the 401Ks.  When Obama finally signs the Grand Bargain, he will be creating an environmental catastrophe but before that happens, he has to win this election and people are hurting so badly, he may not be able to do it.

Do the number of ad buys really make a difference anymore?  We may see the effects of the internet on politics for real this election season.  Some of us have given up TVs altogether and no longer subscribe to newspapers.  I’m guessing that would affect the Democrats more.  Their base is younger and better educated (but not necessarily smarter).  The people who are moved by TV ads are older and less well educated.  That would favor Republicans.  I don’t know, this crap makes me crazy.  It’s all a bunch of political psych tricks that make no difference to how people live their lives.  But I suspect that the Osama bin Laden to-do this week had something to do with appealing to older and independent voters.  I could care less.  All I want to hear coming out of either candidates’ mouths is how they are planning to solve the unemployment problem and save our retirements without requiring even one more half penny of sacrifice from the late babyboomers.  Anything other than that might as well be speaking in some obscure language from a small isolated population in the Caucasus.  “Blah-blah-blah-SEALS! Blah-blah-blah-SHOT-IN-THE-EYE!” Who. Gives. A. FRACK.

So, as I was saying, the bankers are like strip miners and they’re not getting much out of the mountain anymore, their manager says the place is exhausted and they’re puzzled because this particular piece of real estate has been pretty rich for so long that it’s hard to take it all in that it’s gone.  It’s really gone.  And now, they have to go mine somewhere else and in those other places, the ore’s not so rich or it’s harder to get at or there are people standing in the way or it’s going to take time to get the permits and pay off the owners or make new deals.  They’re going to have to do a trickier kind of work now or they’re in big trouble because the deals they are about to make are a lot riskier.  Meanwhile, they’re leaving a big mess behind with lots of toxic runoff and the downstream people are angry because they have destroyed our economic ecosystem.  I guess they want Obama to keep the rabble down while they finish their work but it’s getting loud and noisy and not helping their concentration.  Maybe Mitt can keep a lid on it…

Anyway, that’s the way I see it.  They’re getting paid to stripmine.  Changing the way they behave will require the will to change the environment they work in.  If I were really interested in changing the way this works, I would have protected the employees that worked for Wall Street at the very beginning of this crisis.  I would have enforced workplace standards, required a limit on the number of hours worked, required mandatory overtime to be dispensed with the next immediate paycheck, enforced the minimum wage, tied salary to hours worked and prevented bonuses from rising to more than 20% of salary, mandated more 4 weeks of vacation per year, paid, and required every blessed transaction to undergo rigorous outside auditing, just to slooooow everything down.  Also, I might have had the EEOC or some other agency review hiring practices so that applicants were not discriminated on the basis of where they went to school or their genders.

From the money side of things, I would have begun the process of eliminating the 401K, reinstituted the defined benefit pension plan, and placed rigorous outside auditing checks on every blessed pension fund transaction.  One final thing: I would have made sure that I seized control of any fiber optic cable coming out of Wall Street.  We should never negotiate with terrorists.

Wall Street would have screamed bloody murder but such measures might have gotten a lot of support from workers including some of the workers on Wall Street.

Alas, Obama did not do this.  So now he is faced with having to do without finance sector money and will have to face the mountain this fall.

I kind of like the way this is playing out.

Thank Ghu It’s Freitag


‘Quantitative Easing': The Hidden Government Subsidy for Banks

This video went up on Zero Hedge yesterday, I believe. In the first minute you will want to throw both of these little bears in a sack and drown them, but by the end they win you over. There are so many things about QE that are crazy, but there’s one thing that I’d like to point out in particular. Yes, this is a huge money-printing program with potentially disastrous inflationary consequences. And yes, the influx of all this money could easily distort markets and prices far beyond the extreme distortions we’ve already been dealing with (commodities prices shot through the roof after this latest QE round was announced). But the thing I want to focus on is the subsidy aspect of QE, pointed out in the video. QE is designed to buy Treasuries and other assets, but the Fed does not simply go out and buy Treasuries itself; it does it through its primary dealers, who include of course banks like Goldman, Sachs. The Fed all but announces when it’s going to be doing this buying and in what quantity, which allows the banks to buy up this stuff at lower prices ahead of time and then sell it to the Fed at inflated cost.

Even forgetting about the obvious insider trading aspect to all of this, the official middleman status of the banks is a direct government subsidy and it is little remarked upon, even by the Tea Party crowd, which is otherwise so opposed to “welfare.” But these sorts of subsidies exist all throughout the financial services industry.

You want to take out a mortgage or a credit card; you obviously can’t get your credit from the government at 0% interest. What you do instead is you get a mortgage from a private bank at 4.7% or 5%, and that bank in turn has borrowed from the Fed at 0%. This would almost make sense if indeed these banks were legitimately providing a service for that 5% cut, i.e. if they were carefully and judiciously weighing the credit risk of applicants. But if anything these banks have been even more irresponsible (more irresponsible by far, actually) with their money than the masses of people who are now in trouble with their credit cards, mortgages, student loans, etc. They not only don’t deserve this subsidy any more than ordinary people do, they’re actually the worst possible destination for an appropriation of emergency funding, which is what this Fed money is supposed to be.

Take seven minutes and watch the video. Plan on being irate afterward. Seriously.

After you watch it, read this:

In Defense of Ben Bernanke

All in all, it looks like the nation and the world need an Economics 101 refresher. So let’s start with the basics.

The Fed’s plan is to purchase about $600 billion of additional U.S. government securities over about eight months, creating more bank reserves (“printing money”) to do so. This policy is one version of quantitative easing, or “QE” for short. And since the Fed has done QE before, this episode has been branded “QE2.”

Here’s the first Economics 101 question: When central banks seek to stimulate their economies, how do they normally do it? If you answered, “by lowering short-term interest rates,” you get half credit. For full credit, you must explain how: They create new bank reserves to purchase short-term government securities (in the U.S., that’s mostly Treasury bills). Yes, they print money.

But short-term rates are practically zero in the U.S. now, so the Fed wants to push down medium- and long-term interest rates instead. How? You guessed it: by creating new bank reserves to purchase medium- and long-term government securities.

That sounds pretty similar to garden-variety monetary policy. Yet critics are branding QE2 a radical departure from past practices and a dangerous experiment.

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