Schroeder told Liu on Bloomberg News that a "Clint Eastwood mentality" reigns at Goldman Sachs. Her sources told her that "we may have a lot of empathy for these people who are the poor, but we're not going to live in a double wide trailer, either. We're going to protect our fistful of dollars with our Glock."
A particularly grave error, in her view, was steering the groups away from populist assaults on the AIG bonuses early in Obama's term.
"The natural people who would have been organizing at that point in time were the liberal groups. The bankers came to the White House and said, 'We want you to ratchet down the rhetoric and that's what happened. The word went out at those meetings, 'Don't criticize the bankers, don't criticize Geithner and Summers,’" she said, referring to gatherings of major, White House-allied groups under the rubrics Unity '09 and Common Purpose.
"All that populist anger migrated over to the teabaggers and grew over there," she said. "That was a huge mistake and we're going to pay for it in 2010."
[W]hen you have a progressive tax system, especially when there are surcharges on people making seven-figure incomes, you also have a system where for any given level of national income, the greater the inequality, the greater the government’s tax revenues. And indeed federal revenues have been rising faster than median wages for decades now, thanks to the rich getting ever richer.
Given the government’s insatiable appetite for cash, it’s only natural that it would prefer to tax plutocrats, spending some of that money on poorer Americans, rather than move to a world where poorer Americans earn more (but still don’t pay that much in taxes), and the plutocrats earn less, depriving the national fisc of untold billions in revenue.
The government’s interests, then, are naturally aligned with those of the plutocrats — and when that happens, the chances of change naturally drop to zero.
Douglass North: "The natural state is a mixture of mutually interdependent economic and political interests that reinforce each other. The economic interests are the elites that produce economic activity. But they tend to support political groups that in turn will protect them from too much competition. The interplay is the elites in the political world protecting the economic elites from too much competition and giving them monopolies, while on the other hand the economic elites provide the funds that support the political elites."
As all human things have an end, the state we are speaking of will lose its liberty, will perish. Have not Rome, Sparta, and Carthage perished? It will perish when the legislative power shall be more corrupt than the executive.
Windfall taxes are a ghastly idea. They are a sop to prejudice, a burden on risk-taking and a form of arbitrary confiscation. No sensible person should support them. So why do I now find the idea of a windfall tax on banks so appealing? Well, this time, it really does look different.
First, all the institutions making exceptional profits do so because they are beneficiaries of unlimited state insurance for themselves and their counterparties...
Second, the profits being made today are in large part the fruit of the free money provided by the central bank, an arm of the state. The state is giving the surviving banks a licence to print money.
Third, the case for generous subventions is to restore the financial system – and so the economy – to health. It is not to enrich bankers, particularly not those engaged in the sorts of trading activities that destroyed the financial system in the first place.
Fourth... public finances will be devastated for decades: taxes will be higher and public spending lower. Meanwhile, bankers are about to reap huge rewards. This damages the legitimacy of the market economy.
Fifth, it is hard to argue in favour of exceptional interventions to bail out the financial sector at times of crisis, and also against exceptional interventions to recoup costs when the crisis is past. “Windfall” support should be matched by windfall taxes.
Finally, these are genuine windfalls. They are, as George Soros has said, “hidden gifts” from the state. What the state gives, the state is entitled to take back, if it is not used for the state’s purposes.
So the question, in my mind, is not whether a windfall tax can be justified but whether it can be designed successfully... Since the aim of policy is to recapitalise the banks, the tax should not reduce their ability to do so. It would be far better then to impose a tax on contributions made to the bonus pool. There is no public interest in such payments... Yet windfall taxes cannot contain financial excess, precisely because their goal is not to affect incentives. So what is to be done?
A big part of the solution must be to shift incentives. The more credible are the pre-announced limits on support from government, the more effective will be the changes in incentives inside banks, and vice versa. The less we are able to shift these incentives, the more important it will be to impose heavy regulation... Yet, regardless of the success of reforms of incentives in – and regulation of – the financial sector, it is reasonable to recoup not only the direct fiscal costs of saving banks but even some of the wider fiscal costs of the crisis. The time has come for some carefully judged populism. A one-off windfall tax on bonuses would make the pain ahead for society so very much more bearable. Try it: millions will love it.
Suppose someone came up with the following design for the core institutions of our financial system: they would be mainly financed by deposits, redeemable on demand; they would invest in a wide range of often illiquid and opaque assets; they would engage in complex trading activities; but they would have a wafer-thin equity cushion. Surely, people would conclude, this is fraudulent. They would be right. Such a structure can only endure because central banks act as lenders of last resort. The government’s ability to create money is put at the disposal of private interests. Right at the moment, the ability to borrow from the government at zero interest is a licence to print money.
In practice, however, we have gone much further than this. We have also explicitly guaranteed many deposits and implicitly guaranteed many more liabilities. Indeed, in the crisis, policymakers guaranteed all the liabilities of institutions deemed systemically significant. Today, the core financial institutions are, beyond doubt, a part of the state.
Mr Kay’s proposal is, in sum, to end the fraud: banks would be forced to hold assets as safe and liquid as their liabilities. We know there are other ways of making a system of fractional-reserve banks relatively safe: a stable domestic oligopoly achieves much the same thing. But that does seem highly regressive.
Is Mr Kay’s the answer? One obvious objection is that it would impose a massive upheaval in finance. But, given the crisis, such an upheaval is the least we should fear. Another objection (though, to some an advantage) is that, taken to its conclusion, it would eliminate monetary policy. Public debt held by banks would set the money supply.
Banking would disappear.
Short of such radicalism, we must approach the task in a more subtle manner. First, create a set of laws and institutions that make it possible to bankrupt any and all institutions, even in a crisis. Second, make financial institutions safer, with much higher capital requirements, against all activities. Third, prevent off-balance-sheet activities. Fourth, impose dynamic provisioning. Fifth, require huge cushions of contingent capital. Finally, cease to favour debt-finance, throughout the economy.
If we did all this, the world of finance would be duller and safer. It would still not have the reliability of jet engines. So long as we allow people to make leveraged bets on the future, breakdowns will occur. The division of finance into utility and casino cannot solve this problem. Only the end of leverage would do so. Do we want that? I doubt it.
« Older Facebook Profiles Capture True Personality... | Tokyo Blues... Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
Buy a Shirt