Following parts one, two and three of the Global Power Project’s Group of Thirty series, this fourth and final installment focuses on a few of the G30 members who have played outsized roles both in creating and managing various financial crises, providing a window on to the ideas, institutions and individuals who help steer this powerful global group.
The Assassin of Argentina
Prior to 2008, one of the most notable examples of a highly destructive financial crisis took place in Argentina which, heavily in debt, faced a large default and was brutally punished by financial markets and the speculative assault of global finance, otherwise known as “capital flight.” Continue reading →
Joseph Stiglitz couldn’t believe his ears. Here they were in the White House, with President Bill Clinton asking the chiefs of the US Treasury for guidance on the life and death of America’s economy, when the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers turns to his boss, Secretary Robert Rubin, and says, “What would Goldman think of that?”
“The powers of financial capitalism had another far reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole.” —Prof. Caroll Quigley, Georgetown University, Tragedy and Hope (1966)
The widening circle applauding megamillionaire Larry Summers –of Harvard University, Washington, D.C. and Wall Street – agrees on one word to describe the colossal failure – Brilliant! That circle includes Barack Obama, who appointed Summers in 2009 to be his chief economic advisor, Bill Clinton, who made him Secretary of the Treasury, and the Harvard Board of Overseers, who named him president of Harvard University in 2001.
Last week’s dismal “data dump” has ended all talk of a strong recovery in the US. Retail sales, factory output, jobless claims, consumer confidence, business investment and existing home sales are all down sharply indicating that the US economy is decelerating and may be headed for recession.
The Obama administration was warned repeatedly that activity would slow when the $800 billion fiscal stimulus (ARRA) ran out and net government spending became a drag on growth. But Obama’s chief economics advisor, Lawrence Summers, shrugged off these warnings in order to keep the economy sputtering along at half-speed. Summers figured that bigger deficits and slower growth would create the rationale for slashing entitlement spending and crushing organised labor (particularly, public unions) In other words, the economy is weak, because the policy was designed to make it weak. Mission accomplished.
The new restraints on bank lending for speculation proposed yesterday by President Barack Obama follow the advice of former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker but will be much more credible if the president now fires Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers.
What President Obama is calling the “Volcker Rule” would take us back in the direction of the 1932 Glass-Steagall Act which kept commercial and investment banking separate for 67 years, until 1999 when it was foolishly repealed by President Bill Clinton. Then-Treasury Secretary Summers strongly supported the repeal.
Ben Bernanke has been a bigger disaster than Hurricane Katrina. But the senate is about to re-up him for another four-year term. What are they thinking? Bernanke helped Greenspan inflate the biggest speculative bubble of all time, and still maintains that he never saw it growing. Right. How can retail housing leap from $12 trillion to $21 trillion in 7 years (1999 to 2006) without popping up on the Fed’s radar? It’s not possible. Bernanke is just fudging the facts to save his skin.
Bernanke was also staunch supporter of the low interest rate policy which led to the crash. Greenspan never believed that it was the Fed’s job to deal with credit bubbles. “The free market is self-correcting”, he thought. He was the nation’s chief regulator, but he was opposed to the idea of government regulation. Go figure? Here’ a quote from Greenspan in 2002:
There’s no fixed number of greenbacks in a vault at the Treasury which limit how much the federal government can spend. Since the US pays its debts in its own currency–it can print as many dollars as it pleases. Of course, if boosting the money supply triggers inflation, the Fed has to withdraw liquidity and raise interest rates. But that’s not the problem at present. The problem is how to zap the economy back to life. The problem is how to get 16 million people out of unemployment lines and back to work. That’s the real challenge. The problem is political not economic. Obama is surrounded by industry reps who are trying to scare him about the size of the deficits. But deficits aren’t the problem; unemployment is. Once people get back to work and build their savings, their creditworthiness will improve, and the next economic expansion will begin. When more people are paying into the system, the deficits will come down. But the deficits won’t come down if tens of millions of people are still on the sidelines and forced to cut their spending. Judging by last Thursday’s speech at the “Jobs Summit”, Obama still doesn’t grasp this:
Barack Obama’s chief economic advisor, Lawrence Summers, is determined to sabotage a second round of stimulus. And, he’s getting plenty of help, too. Congressional Democrats are dragging their feet because they’re worried about the political backlash and midterm elections, the GOP deficit hawks are looking for a way they can derail the Obama agenda and reestablish their bone fides as fiscal conservatives, and the bailout-traumatized American people are simply opposed to anything that generates more red ink. Even Obama has joined the fray and started badmouthing stimulus stressing the importance of living within our means and trimming the deficits. So it looks like a done-deal; no more stimulus. There’s only one problem, without another blast of stimulus the economy is headed for the skids.
Summers knows this because he is an extremely bright and competent economist. With Summers, the issue is loyalty, not intelligence. To prove this point, consider Summers comments in a Washington Post editorial (September of 2008) where he explains what needs to be done to put the economy back on track:
“We didn’t truly know the dangers of the market, because it was a dark market,” says Brooksley Born, the head of an obscure federal regulatory agency — the Commodity Futures Trading Commission [CFTC] — who not only warned of the potential for economic meltdown in the late 1990s, but also tried to convince the country’s key economic powerbrokers to take actions that could have helped avert the crisis. “They were totally opposed to it,” Born says. “That puzzled me. What was it that was in this market that had to be hidden?”