Skip

Paging Duncan Fletcher...
March 23, 2009 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Who will be our era's Duncan Fletcher? Fed up with widespread financial sector double-dealing, profiteering and opportunism in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression, a soft-spoken, conservative Democrat senator from Jacksonville, Florida stepped up to play an instrumental role in shaping post-Depression era financial policies.

Known previously throughout his career for tending to side with banking industry and big business interests on policy matters, Fletcher's crusading campaign to establish more effective financial regulations earned him the title "Dixie's Reluctant Progressive" (as an interesting aside, note how accurately the Amazon tags for Fletcher's biography reflect these historical nuances).

In addition to both the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Fletcher played a key contributing role in shaping the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. Many analysts consider the repeal of this act (which was gradually whittled away under pressure from the banking industry before its repeal by the Republican legislature under the Clinton White House in 1999) to have played a major contributing role in the US's current financial crisis.
posted by saulgoodman (31 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nobody takes congressional testimony seriously anymore. You could "haul" bankers up there, and in fact, that's been happening. The AIG guy was just up there, and other bank CEOs have gone before congress.

All they would do is spew B.S. and if necessary plead the fifth. But there has hardly been a dearth of "OUTRAGED" senators and congressmen grandstanding at committee hearings.
posted by delmoi at 11:02 AM on March 23, 2009


well, sure delmoi, but hearings can still lead to the formulation of new pieces of legislation. like the various legislative measures fletcher helped shepherd to life. and people do still take enacted laws seriously, right? (actually, post-bush, i'm not even sure that's true anymore.)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:09 AM on March 23, 2009


Congress is constantly fighting the last war. It regulates to prevent recurrence of the last bubble or scandal, when private sector risk aversion is perfectly sufficient to prevent that. Most people don't make precisely the same mistake twice.

The packages of regulations which accompanied the dot-com bust and the subsequently-revealed Enron, Worldcom and Adelphia frauds did absolutely nothing to prevent the mortgage bubble from inflating or bursting, nor did they make it any easier to deal with the post-burst situation. To the extent they created false confidence, they may have even worsened today's problems.

In addition to seeing the failure / irrelevance of the 2002 reform package, we also saw that the regulations which were enacted in the late 80s to address the S&L scandal also had no real impact when facing their first test of preserving the stability of financial institutions and the integrity of their balance sheets.

Now with today's regulatory efforts, we are seeing the same pattern. For example, the moves on compensation are all completely besides the point as a means of reform -- the one thing that won't happen again for a while, with or without regulation, is brokerages paying large cash bonuses on "gains" until those gains have been fully liquidated and the leverage which funded them has been retired, or investors taking on large swaths of structured risk for very little yield compensation.

What is truly needed is for lenders and investors to recognize that they can never ever under any circumstances effectively outsource to any politician or bureaucrat the duty not to take stupid risks, or fail effectively to gauge risk in the first place.

If I were to regulate anything it would be take on the revolving door between regulators and regulated institutions and their service providers, which results in too little of some kinds of regulatory action and too much of other kinds.
posted by MattD at 11:29 AM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Where is our Duncan Fletcher?

Where is our JP Morgan?

Where is our Ferdinand Pecora?

Who knows, on all three counts.

Meanwhile, the TALF/PPIF plan being re-unveiled today is committed to helping private investors buy up toxic assets for a potential profit.

Except these "investors" will mostly be using a trillion dollars of our taxpayer money, and not their own private money, to do so.

Furthermore, these investors are essentially blackmailing Geithner by insisting there be no taxes on bonuses, and Geithner is giving them their wishes. The plan is already being compromised, and it's structurally compromised as it is.

As has been noted elsewhere, Krugman and others doubt that TALF can work. Some wonder if TALF just sidesteps the real problem.
posted by ornate insect at 11:31 AM on March 23, 2009


Except these "investors" will mostly be using a trillion dollars of our taxpayer money, and not their own private money, to do so.

15% of the money will be their own, but, unlike an ordinary leveraged deal, if the value of the "Legacy" assets drops below the sale price, the private investors walk away, and the taxpayer eats any additional losses.
posted by delmoi at 11:53 AM on March 23, 2009


It is inevitable (and a good thing) that we will come out of this crisis with new regulation. Some will be good, some will be bad.

It sounds like the Pecora Commission began with a well researched well thought out study of what went wrong. Why don't we start there? Instead we get grandstanding congressmen asking idiotic questions about things they don't really understand. It would be better if they commissioned someone to help them get up to speed on what really happened - and then had the hearing to figure out how best to regulate the industry going forward. Instead we get witch hunts.


That dailykos article is garbage. Find me an example of company that has gotten blown up because of actual losses paid on CDS rather then idiotic collateral postings triggered by the rating agencies. There are a few out there - but I'm guessing that guy has never heard of them.

Krugmans argument is predicated on a premise that on a probabilistic basis the "Toxic Assets" are fairly valued. If you believe that, then yes this all a waste of time and you should nationalize the banks. But prove that if you are going to assert that.

The plan announced today is flawed because the best outcome (if you believe that the market is undervaluing "toxic assets") for tax-payers would be for the government to buy the toxic assets themselves. This however would lead to a complete and total freakout by any efficient markets sorts - because the government would essentially be setting the prices for the assets and the process would be either opaque or risk being paralyzed by public arguments - (recoveries on '06 vintage first lien 700 FICO should be 40%. No it shouldn't it should be 20%, repeat ad naseum). I actually don't think this is the worst idea in the world, but politically untenable.

Basically the treasury is giving a massive handout to a few asset managers in exchange for outsourcing the price setting of the troubled asset purchases. Its a lame plan but I'm not sure there are better options.

All I'll say about Geithner - Wall Street thinks he's fcking them, and Main Street thinks he's in Wall Street's pocket. No one likes the guy and I wonder why. A theory might be that he doesn't swagger into peoples offices and say "This is the plan that will solve everything". At least he's thoughtful unlike Paulson who just acted like the deal-guy investment banker he is.
posted by JPD at 12:00 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


delmoi--exactly. Furthermore, valuing the toxic, near-worthless assets in question is largely impossible. Seems like good money chasing after bad.
posted by ornate insect at 12:00 PM on March 23, 2009


All I'll say about Geithner - Wall Street thinks he's fcking them

Um, I think not: Wall Street Rises on Bank Rescue Details
posted by ornate insect at 12:08 PM on March 23, 2009


Why is it largely impossible. Its uncertain for sure, but not impossible. More terrible financial journalism. The point of the fed backstopped leverage is to encourage people to take the risks inherent in that uncertainty. And the reason why there are multiple players is to find the highest possible clearing price.
posted by JPD at 12:09 PM on March 23, 2009


All I'll say about Geithner - Wall Street thinks he's fcking them

Um, I think not: Wall Street Rises on Bank Rescue Details


Right because what one days banks stocks performance speaks to the general attitude of the people on Wall Street. You might not want to believe me because you have some conspiracy wrapped up in your head - but people in the markets hate him.

Go look around the idiotic finance blogs. Look at the online markets that will let you bet on how long he lasts. June contracts are some insanely high price.
posted by JPD at 12:13 PM on March 23, 2009


JPD--Are you not worried that there may be a real structural weakness at work in this plan, in that it seems to be returning to the very problems that helped cause the meltdown to begin with (i.e. to speculation that poses greater risk to the financial system as a whole than it does to the private investor)?
posted by ornate insect at 12:17 PM on March 23, 2009


as an interesting aside, note how accurately the Amazon tags for Fletcher's biography reflect these historical nuances

I think these Amazon tags are user-generated, which in practice means that it's haven for right-wing trolls. There's probably some right-wing nerd right now adding these tag to every book that has the word "progressive" in the title, whether "reluctant" or not.
posted by jonp72 at 12:38 PM on March 23, 2009


There will be no Duncan Flethcher. No Savior. Ameican politicians are all owned by business these days. Even the mavericks arent mavericks.

We will not rise up from this crisis - rather, it is part of, the start of, a long decline.
posted by Flood at 12:38 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Go look around the idiotic finance blogs.

As someone who does occasionally look at those blogs--man, it's really scary how uninformed by historical context, blinkered, and fanatically "Free-Market-Uber-Alles" the sentiments expressed in the comments on those blogs tend to be. If those attitudes are representative of the views of a significant number of actual Wall Street traders, it's no wonder we find ourselves in such a mess (I suspect, though, that most of those comments are from small-time day trader types, which others have assured me represent a special breed).


There's probably some right-wing nerd right now adding these tag to every book that has the word "progressive" in the title, whether "reluctant" or not.

That's exactly how I pictured it, too... How sad, though!
posted by saulgoodman at 12:39 PM on March 23, 2009


JPD--Are you not worried that there may be a real structural weakness at work in this plan, in that it seems to be returning to the very problems that helped cause the meltdown to begin with (i.e. to speculation that poses greater risk to the financial system as a whole than it does to the private investor)?

There are weaknesses in the plan, but not that. The downside is known from day 1.
posted by JPD at 12:48 PM on March 23, 2009


God that sounded prentious. Let me rephrase. Of course I'm worried that somehow this thing will be a total failure - but given the current political climate et al. what better choices are there? I think nationalization is seizure of private capital because I think at the end of the day a lot of banks currently thought of as failed will end up being reasonably capitalized w/o equity injections from the government. I also think nationalization (whcih to me is the only other option) will make raising private capital for financial firms an impossibility for a long, long time.
posted by JPD at 12:53 PM on March 23, 2009


I think nationalization is seizure of private capital

Except when the federal government owns through capital injection 40, 50, 60, or 80 percent of a given giant bank like BoA or company like AIG, as we currently now do, the line between public/private capital is effectively meaningless. Credit wise, we have already nationalized the banks, but we have failed to do so in a way that re-structures and re-regulates the industry effectively. We have bought the banks but we still don't control them. They remain reckless, they remain run by the same people, they remain non-transparent, etc. To give them money without adequately re-structuring and regulating them tends to make the situation worse.

posted by ornate insect at 1:09 PM on March 23, 2009


I think if you go and look at the amount of capital the government has injected into these banks it isn't actually that much relative to their size. For example (and I'm doing this really quickly so forgive any errors - but I'm using the 10-K) - BAC has taken in 45 bil in TARP money. The GAAP Book Equity (Which if you are following along with what I said above I think is probably if anything understated) is 177 billion- so 25% of their capital or thereabouts comes from the government. So no, I don't think its effectively controlled by the government and I don't think it should be nationalized. I do think that once this is all dealt with the taxpayers should get repaid + a sizeable return for injecting capital when no one else should, but I don't think they should cancel the private shareholders equity which is what would happen under nationalization. In fact for those companies who required a huge injection of capital relative to their existing capital base the fed essentially told to find yourself a buyer (Take for example NCC who was told by the Cleveland Fed that they were ineligible for TARP monies, so they sold themselves to PNC)

To your other points I agree, regulation is egregrious and needs to be corrected. Not just corrected - radically rethought by the entire world. Although the lack of transparency argument strikes me as silly. Everyone knew what most of the these guys were doing (ex. AIG maybe) - they just understated the risks. The problems of this crisis aren't related to risky assets ending up being really risky - its assets thought to be near riskless ending up being slightly risky.
posted by JPD at 1:32 PM on March 23, 2009


Douglas Rushkoff?
posted by baxter_ilion at 1:41 PM on March 23, 2009




Simple - make sure no large finance institution can exist. Too big to fail means too big to exist. Across the board - to big to fail means you should not be allowed to exist.

Why?

The history of mankind is of failure. If you do not believe it, think of the machines of man. Over time these machines will fail. Mankind should plan for the failure.

Every human will die. So to must humans plan for the death of the immortal corporations via poorly thought out actions of the flawed humans who run the corporations.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:23 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is kind of off topic really, but to me, the most important goal of any new regulatory regime should be to ensure that unregulated risk-taking in the private sector can never again be allowed to expose public funds to losses on this scale.

From a certain cynical perspective, I can see how something like the current financial crisis could have been deliberately engineered to drain away large amounts of public funds. (I'm not saying that's what happened, just that it's conceivable it could have.) Think about it: AIG, through a single, small unregulated financial products subsidiary, issued untold billions worth of un-collateralized swap contracts and synthetic CDOs to banks of deposit, who in turn put them on their books as assets against their capital requirements.

Woo-hoo! Free money for the banks! Suddenly, they can leverage themselves more, make more loans, etc. But all the while, speculative buyers like the investment banks and hedge funds are getting in on the action, too, buying up swaps on both the debt and the synthetic CDOs, knowing all the while that, one way or another, Uncle Sam will be on the hook if things go south. Why's that? Because, thanks to intense lobbying on the part of the derivatives industry, these swap contracts can't be dismissed under bankruptcy proceedings. So if AIG goes bankrupt, AIG still has to pay out on its contracts.

But if AIG defaults, suddenly banks of deposit everywhere now turn out to be severely under-capitalized. Worse yet, the securitized debt instruments they're holding on their books suddenly don't look so triple-A anymore, and their values plummet. Without Uncle Sam's intervention, this forces the banks into insolvency, requiring the FDIC to make massive payouts on its deposit insurance. (Why not just let the banks payout whatever capital they have on hand first? Well, unless I miss my guess, account holders probably stand somewhere close to the end of the line in terms of all the parties who stand to get a windfall in a bankruptcy proceeding, long after all the executive severance and preferred shareholder obligations have been met).

Now obviously, if the exposure is wide-spread enough, the FDIC can't meet it's deposit insurance obligations and that's a big problem for the entire banking system. So the only alternative is for the government to prop up AIG, to prevent the whole house of cards from folding. In effect, if it were a scam, it would be a fail-proof scheme for sucking public money into the hands of private speculators. It wouldn't take a whole lot of imagination to see how limited Uncle Sam's options would be in the event of a meltdown.

I mean, sure, the current situation probably isn't a product of intentional design. But just looking at it abstractly in terms of system mechanics, I doubt you could design a more efficient system for siphoning public money into the private sector if you tried. How do massive systemic and regulatory weaknesses like this--vulnerabilities that just a few bad actors could potentially exploit to perpetrate large-scale fraud--go unnoticed?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:26 PM on March 23, 2009


Ooh, another thread about the finance crisis? Hmm, I'm out of pepto-bismol. I'll come back and check it out later.
posted by chillmost at 3:12 PM on March 23, 2009


You know when you go to the airport and they scan your testicles for mini-bombs and you can't say the word "Tuesday" because it may be an Al-Queda code-word, we call that security theatre.

I like to think of congress as democracy theatre.
posted by fullerine at 3:57 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Scanning Your Testicles for Mini-Bombs
posted by jonp72 at 4:15 PM on March 23, 2009


More importantly, will a new Dexter Fletcher arise?
posted by biffa at 5:22 PM on March 23, 2009


only if they press gang him
posted by patricio at 5:58 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ooh, another thread about the finance crisis?

Actually, I originally meant it to be about this sort of cool historical figure I'd never heard of before today, but then, I kind of led the charge on derailing the post myself. Bad form.

posted by saulgoodman at 6:46 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]





There will be no Duncan Flethcher. No Savior. Ameican politicians are all owned by business these days. Even the mavericks arent mavericks.

We will not rise up from this crisis - rather, it is part of, the start of, a long decline.


Sadly, I have to agree.

Rome fell too, and I think the future is bleak for my daughter, unless we relocate someplace that's not headed to the toilet.
posted by PuppyCat at 7:59 AM on March 24, 2009


Yeah, PuppyCat, but Rome had something like 1,000 good years first. Surely we can manage to stick around a little longer than just over 200 years, eh? Besides, as bad as all the economic conditions and other things we wring our hands about in the US truly are, they're just as bad, worse or trending that way in nearly every other country on earth, too--in China, for example, the vast majority of people live on just slightly more than the equivalent of $1.25 a day (which is what the World Bank defines as the "poverty level" in China). I mean, even the most awesome Western European countries out there now find themselves facing very dim economic prospects in the mid to long term.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:22 AM on March 24, 2009


« Older Secret passages   |   Do you really want to hurt me?... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post