Extreme Inequality Helped Cause Both The Great Depression And The Current Economic Crisis (via Washington’s Blog)

From Washington’s Blog

Most mainstream economists dismiss the idea that wealth inequality causes economic crises.

Of course, some ideologues will argue that even discussing inequality is waging class warfare, and smacks of an attack on capitalism.

However, the father of modern economics – Adam Smith – disagreed.

And as Warren Buffet, one of America’s most successful capitalists and defenders of capitalism, points out:

There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war ….

(And as I have previously noted, radical concentration of wealth actually destroys capitalism.)

More to the point, most mainstream economists do not believe there is a causal connection between inequality and severe downturns.

But recent studies by Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty are waking up more and more economists to the possibility that there may be a connection.

Washington’s Blog is an interesting web site full of writing you will not see else where. Here’s the link.

I lean toward the argument that inequality is a factor in economic downturns.

Read their post. I can’t do it justice in a few paragraphs. It’s full of graphs, multiple references and good writing. I’ve got this on my favorites.

James Pilant

From The Web Site – Realizing A Better World

Luke H. Lee has a friend, John McCoy, who wrote him a letter as an endorsement. I include the first two paragraphs of the letter. I hope you read the rest by clicking on the link.

It has become customary to bash big government, and for good reason. Government gets in the way when it tries to interfere with the private sector. But things got so bad in 2008 that everyone turned to the Fed, the Congress and the President, and his Treasury Secretary, to do something to avert the train wreck we all saw coming. They did do something; and most people were grateful, including the business community and the financial community. But in allowing them to intervene as they did, we – and I mean business leaders — shirked our responsibilities. It was our mistake in the first place. Now it is the turn of the business community to take drastic steps. We need to start by telling our government leaders, “Thanks, but no thanks” to their further efforts to jumpstart the economy. They simply don’t know how to do that, and why should we expect them to do what they are not designed to do?
So, what is the next step on the road to recovery? The first step is a painful one; it is the recognition that we in the business community erred. What kind of error am I talking about? I am talking about a failure of imagination. We pride ourselves in the business community for our ingenuity, our creativity, our willingness to think outside the box. We have done nothing of the sort. If we had, we would have avoided this train wreck long ago.

Mr. Lee is interested in solutions to global problems and he worries that a dangerous downturn is possible. So, reading his web site, Realizing A Better World, might well be a good step for you.

James Pilant

Irish And Greek Bailouts Won’t Work!

James Saft
James Saft writing on his blog discusses the strange bailouts of Ireland and Greece. “What’s strange?” They are unsustainable. They are disastrous. They are a bandaid that won’t hold. This essay uses the word, bizarre. That is correct.

James Pilant

From Reuters

So let’s recap, because this is truly bizarre: Lenders to Ireland or the other troubled states won’t take a hit now but if they stick around until 2013 then they will take losses along with the taxpayers. Oh yeah, and the current round of bailouts are aimed at seeing Ireland and Greece through the next couple of years, at which point it will become extremely dangerous to lend to them, as their economies will have shrunk, their debt burdens bloomed and private lenders will be on the hook.

To add to this, the European Stability Mechanism, the name of the new fund, will be senior to all creditors except the International Monetary Fund, meaning that in the event of a bankruptcy it would be paid first. Ratings agency Fitch looked at this provision and quite rightly said that it might lead to lower ratings on shaky euro zone sovereigns.

The only way you could make this policy mix work was if you could find a very rich lender with no ability to conceptualize the future. Hmm, let’s see a rich entity with limited ability to fully imagine a future state – it must be the European Union!

Few private lenders will stick around, they will sell their bonds and the only buyers will be the EU or ECB, which itself as it understands this predicament is hugely unwilling to play along.

Germany and France are both so unwilling to both have principles and pay for them that they are refusing to act on proposals for common European bonds and are expected to resist moves to increase the size of the European Financial Stability Fund, the vehicle now being used for bailouts.

Okay, do you get it? These aren’t solutions. They are designed to tide things over until someone new is in office to take responsibility. And especially, they are designed to appear as decisive action when they are nothing of the kind.

It is important that both Greece and Ireland elect new governments charged with challenging these horrendous plans that smack only of disaster. Those countries deserve better, and their citizens should demand better terms. These are sovereign nations not American homeowners subject to the whims of banks.

Let democracies exert the power of the people, the one and only thing that banks fear.

James Pilant

Breaking Down the Economic Death Spiral – and Saving the World Economy (via Realizing A Better World)

Ho-Hyung (“Luke”) Lee writes on economic problems. He begins thusly –

The Western countries, that is, the United States and Great Britain, and including Japan, are among the most innovative countries in the world. They have the best universities; they have the best political systems; they have the best technologies. Unfortunately, they have failed to revive their own economies over the last several years. Japan, for one, has had a stagnant economy for almost two decades now. What’s wrong with them and their economies? Isn’t there anyone who can figure out what the real causes of the current economic crisis are and suggest a clear solution?

He then lays out his conception of a solution. It’s well worth your reading.

James Pilant

A Spectre is Haunting Ireland – the Spectre of Fascism (via homophilosophicus) [8]

This is Homophilosophicus take on the Authoritarian in Irish History and the last in today’s series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I have.

He has a thoughtful mind in a difficult place in a terrible time. The combination is painful but often results in very fine writing.

James Pilant

A Spectre is Haunting Ireland - the Spectre of Fascism One cannot help but be wryly amused by the accusation that the government and police authorities are fascists during this time of social discontent and upheaval. It sounds vaguely reminiscent of the language of the European student revolutionary movements of the 1970s à la John Sullivan’s Citizen Smith. No matter how often the term is used to describe the present régime it creates an involuntary smile across so many faces. No sensible person wish … Read More

via homophilosophicus

This Is Not A Recovery

I wrote this back in August. I haven’t changed my mind one bit. Whenever I read this nonsense about an economic recovery, I’m struck by how far away the commentator is from actual American life and how close he is to Washington.

So says Paul Krugman at the New York Times. And he’ right. This is the New Great Depression, the second in American history. It will always be remembered by future generations as Great Depression II, the second great depression. Just like the first world war failed to solve the problems that would eventually lead to the second world war, the same problems bit us a second time. The humiliating thing is that if we had continued with the protections from the first great depression we could have avoided much of the damage. But the claims and promises of an irresponsible and incompetent economic elite have led America and the rest of the world into disaster, a disaster these same creatures do not believe is happening since it has no effect on them except a persistent worry that their profession is being “demonized.” Demons would have had serious difficulty in doing more damage to more innocent lives.

James Pilant

Ireland’s Economic and Moral Crisis (via homophilosophicus)

This guy can write! I was scanning the net for business ethics sites and came across it. He writes with intelligence and passion. He’s often very indignant and appalled at what is happening in his country (similar to some one we know, right?).

I want to meet this guy. Like me he teaches. He talks about it with the same passion I bring to it. Read his stuff.

James Pilant

Ireland's Economic and Moral Crisis It has become clear to all but the very few that the heyday of Ireland's economic success of the past decade has come to an end. More than ten years of sometimes rapid growth in economies over Europe produced the illusion among speculators and investors of financial and economic invulnerability. So advanced was this delusion or group hysteria that Gordon Brown, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer of Great Britain, announced in the March 21st 200 … Read More

via homophilosophicus

Business Confidence Ratings!

Bank confidence level is 22%.

Well, that’s awe inspiring.

What about big business? 16%

That’s less than Congress.

I bet they worry at night.

I bet they’re scared.

If there was an actual political party willing to defend the public and enforce the law, they might find some votes.

What do you think?

James Pilant

P.S. Those are the 2009 numbers. In 2010, their approval rating went up dramatically – 23%.

Colleges, Universities and Alumni Associations Were Paid 83 Million Dollars To Push Credit Cards On Students

Do university administrators feel guilty about encouraging their students to sign up for credit cards that Handful of cut-up credit cards.provided kickbacks to their schools?

Of course, these administrators should. Over the year, hundreds of colleges gave student credit card issuers amazing access in return for cold cash. Colleges surrendered such personal information as student emails, addresses and phone numbers so these companies could pelt students with promotions. And schools allowed credit card issuers on their campuses where they lured kids into signing up for student credit cards in return for t-shirts or other freebies.

Of course, they don’t. Guilt is for suckers. Winners take their opportunities as they come. After all, those students are adults (most of them). They make their own decisions, right?

Looks to me like shooting fish in a barrel.

For years, colleges pushed credit cards on to their most vulnerable students, often those without income and certainly those without financial savvy. The colleges made a tidy sum. A few of their students committed suicide and a great number wound up in debt that fifteen or twenty years will be required to pay it off.

Of course, they don’t feel any responsibility. It was just business.

Average student credit card debt – $3173.

Hook ’em and Cook ’em.

And the colleges, universities and alumni associations weren’t protecting their students. They were exploiting them.

Business ethics – You don’t rip off your customers. (Apparently this is hard for some people.)

James Pilant

The Definition Of Success Depends On Whether Or Not You Work For The Treasury Department

President Obama said the program would help three to four million people modify their mortgages. But through September, 728,686 struggling homeowners have been kicked out of the program; just 640,300 remain, the Treasury Department reported on Monday.

That doesn’t strike me as a success. If the intention was to keep people in their homes, it doesn’t seem to be working very well.

“The most specific of TARP’s Main Street goals, “preserving homeownership,” has so far fallen woefully short, with TARP’s portion of the Administration’s mortgage modification program yielding only 207,000 (out of a total of 467,000) ongoing permanent modifications since TARP’s inception, a number that stands in stark contrast to the 5.5 million homes receiving foreclosure filings and more than 1.7 million homes that have been lost to foreclosure since January 2009.”

That little quote is from the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP).  He has some more to say though –

“SIGTARP, along with the other TARP oversight bodies (GAO and the Congressional Oversight Panel), has long argued that Treasury should adopt meaningful benchmarks and goals for HAMP – permanent modifications that offer secure, sustainable relief to the program’s intended beneficiaries.  Remarkably, Treasury has steadfastly rejected these recommendations, and now finds itself defending a program that is failing to meet TARP’s goal of “perserving homeownership”.  As a result, a program that began with much promise must be counted among those that risk generating public anger and mistrust.”

But it gets better – at a meeting with administration officials for bloggers – Well, read the following –

On HAMP, officials were surprisingly candid. The program has gotten a lot of bad press in terms of its Kafka-esque qualification process and its limited success in generating mortgage modifications under which families become able and willing to pay their debt. Officials pointed out that what may have been an agonizing process for individuals was a useful palliative for the system as a whole. Even if most HAMP applicants ultimately default, the program prevented an outbreak of foreclosures exactly when the system could have handled it least. There were murmurs among the bloggers of “extend and pretend”, but I don’t think that’s quite right. This was extend-and-don’t-even-bother-to-pretend. The program was successful in the sense that it kept the patient alive until it had begun to heal. And the patient of this metaphor was not a struggling homeowner, but the financial system, a.k.a. the banks. Policymakers openly judged HAMP to be a qualified success because it helped banks muddle through what might have been a fatal shock. I believe these policymakers conflate, in full sincerity, incumbent financial institutions with “the system”, “the economy”, and “ordinary Americans”. Treasury officials are not cruel people. I’m sure they would have preferred if the program had worked out better for homeowners as well. But they have larger concerns, and from their perspective, HAMP has helped to address those.

You see, HAMP is designed to help the banks not the homeowners. It enabled the banks to manage their foreclosures during a period in which it would have been difficult to keep up the pace.

So, success is defined as making sure the banks are successful.

Gives you a warm feeling doesn’t it?

James Pilant