Policy

Beyond the Stimulus: Time to Get Real

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In remarks on Friday following a meeting with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Sheila Bair, Chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, President Obama pointed to some “glimmers of hope” in the economy, and indeed a few green shoots – rising mortgage refinancings and a slight uptick in durable goods orders – have appeared in recent weeks.  read more »

The Rogue Treasury

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The U.S. Treasury took enormous powers for itself last fall by telling Congress they would use it to “ensure the economic well-being of Americans.” Six months after passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 Americans are worse off. Since it was signed into law on October 3, 2008, here are the changes in a few measures of our economic well-being:  read more »

Borderline Reality

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For years, economic and social observers have taken to redrawing our borders to better define our situation and to attempt to predict the future. Maybe you thought the global financial meltdown has raised anxiety levels in the United States quite enough. But a Russian professor’s decade old prediction of national disintegration suggests much worse on the way.  read more »

From Bush's Cowboy to Obama's Collusive Capitalism

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Race may be the thing that most obviously distinguishes President Barack Obama from his predecessors, but his biggest impact may be in transforming the nature of class relations — and economic life — in the United States.

In basic terms, the president is overseeing a profound shift from cowboy to what may be best described as collusive capitalism. This form of capitalism rejects the essential free-market theology embraced by the cowboys, supplanting it with a more managed, highly centralized form of cohabitation between the government apparat and the economic elite.  read more »

Geithner’s Reforms: More Power to the Center May Appeal to Europeans, But Won’t Work for U.S.

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There will be much talk in London about global financial regulation, particularly from the Europeans. But don’t count on it ever coming into existence.

At a House Financial Services Committee on March 26 Treasury Secretary Geithner testified that this particular subject “will be at the center of the agenda at the upcoming Leaders’ Summit of the G-20 in London on April 2.”  read more »

Kansas City and the Great Plains is a Zone of Sanity

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Over the past year, coverage of the economy appears like a soap opera written by a manic-depressive. Yet once you get away from the coasts – where unemployment is skyrocketing and economies collapsing – you enter what may be best to call the zone of sanity.

The zone starts somewhere in Texas and goes through much of the Great Plains all the way to the Mexican border. It covers a vast region where unemployment is relatively low, foreclosures still rare and much of the economy centers on the production of basic goods like foodstuffs, specialized equipment and energy.  read more »

Burnin’ Down the House! Part Two: Wall Street has a Weenie Roast With Your 401k

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Last week I wrote about the first part of my talk to the Bellevue Kiwanis Club on why our economy is in the position it is today. It is a story about good intentioned policies – like modifying credit scoring for Americans working in a cash-economy – that were bastardized in the execution – like some Americans using modified credit scoring to lie about their income. Just like there were superstar firms among the original “junk bond” companies, there were also firms like Enron and WorldCom.

In the first part of my story: banks wrote mortgages, their broker-arms sold them to the public in the form of bonds, they paid fees to Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s to get triple-A credit ratings, and they devised crazy default protection schemes which they also sold in the public capital markets. On top of all that, they screwed up the paper work so there was no relationship between houses and the ultimate financial paper that could be used to cover potential losses.  read more »

Whatever Happened to “The Vision Thing?”

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When I was in elementary school, I remember reading about the remarkable transformations that the future would bring: Flying cars, manned colonies on the moon, humanoid robotic servants. Almost half a century later, none of these promises of the future – and many, many more – have come to pass. Yet, in many respects, these visions from the future served their purpose in allowing us to imagine a world far more wondrous than the one we were in at the time, to aspire to something greater.  read more »

While Fixing Housing, Fix the Regulations

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Everyone knows that subprime mortgages lie at the root of our current financial crisis. Lenders originated too many of them, they were securitized amidst an increasingly complex credit market, and the bubble popped. The rest is painful history.  read more »

Why We Need A New Works Progress Administration

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As the financial bailout fiasco worsens, President Obama may want to consider a do-over of his whole approach towards economic stimulus. Instead of lurching haphazardly in search of a "new" New Deal symphony, perhaps he should adapt parts of the original score.

Nothing makes more sense, for example, than reviving programs like the Works Progress Administration (WPA), started in the 1935, as well as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), begun in 1933. These programs, focused on employing young people whose families were on relief, completed many important projects – many still in use today – while providing practical training to and instilling discipline in an entire generation.  read more »