Fed chief Ben Bernanke told the financial crisis inquiry commission today:
If the crisis has a single lesson, it is that the too-big-to-fail problem must be solved
Too-big-to-fail financial institutions were both a source … of the crisis and among the primary impediments to policymakers’ efforts to contain it ….
That’s funny, given that Bernanke has been one of the biggest defenders of the too big to fail banks, arguing strenuously against breaking them up, throwing trillions of dollars their way, and begging the banks to play nice with one hand, while patting them on the back with the other hand and giving them a big wink.
She had no idea how bad the economic collapse would be. She still doesn’t understand exactly why it was so bad. The response to the collapse was inadequate. And she doesn’t have much of an idea about how to fix things.
Many have tried to explain to the neoclassical economists running the show exactly how bad the economic collapse would be, why it was so bad, and how to mount an adequate response to fix things. But Bernanke, Romer and the rest of the gang ignored them.
As I pointed out in March:
Greenspan’s big defense is that the financial crisis was caused by a “once-in-a-century” event.
Forget about the fact that the “once-in-a-century event” couldn’t have happened if Greenspan’s Fed hadn’t:
- Turned its cheek and allowed massive fraud
- Acted as cheerleader in chief for unregulated use of derivatives at least as far back as 1999 (see this and this)
- And for subprime loans
- Allowed the giant banks to grow into mega-banks. For example, Citigroup’s former chief executive says that when Citigroup was formed in 1998 out of the merger of banking and insurance giants, Greenspan told him, “I have nothing against size. It doesn’t bother me at all”
- Argued that economists had conquered the business cycle, and that modern, technologically advanced financial markets are best left to police themselves
- Preached that a new bubble be blown every time the last one bursts
- Kept interest rates too low
- And did alot of other hinky things
More importantly, as Nassim Taleb repeatedly points out, financial experts who don’t plan for rare events are like pilots who don’t know about storms.
There are storms out there, Taleb says, and any pilot who doesn’t know how to deal with storms shouldn’t be flying. Similarly, no one should be in a position of financial leadership if they don’t know about – and plan for – the infrequent event:
High Priests Shake their Magic Wands Even Harder
Aseconomists have been acting like religious fundamentalists
Bernanke’s failure to realize this: it’s a failing that he shares in common with the vast majority of economists. His problem is the theory he learnt in high school and university that he thought was simply “economics”—as if it was the only way one could think about how the economy operated. In reality, it was “Neoclassical economics”, which is just one of the many schools of thought within economics. In the same way that Christianity is not the only religion in the world, there are other schools of thought in economics. And just as different religions have different beliefs, so too do schools of thought within economics—only economists tend to call their beliefs “assumptions” because this sounds more scientific than “beliefs”.Let’s call a spade a spade: two of the key beliefs of the Neoclassical school of thought are now coming to haunt Bernanke—because they are false. These are that the economy is (almost) always in equilibrium, and that private debt doesn’t matter.
Indeed, as I wrote in June:
Most economists don’t exercise any independent thinking because economists are trained to ignore reality:
And I have pointed out numerous times that economists and advisors have a financial incentive to use faulty models. For example, I pointed out last month:
The decision to use faulty models was an economic and political choice, because it benefited the economists and those who hired them.
For example, the elites get wealthy during booms and they get wealthy during busts. Therefore, the boom-and-bust cycle benefits them enormously, as they can trade both ways.
Specifically, as Simon Johnson, William K. Black and others point out, the big boys make bucketloads of money during the booms using fraudulent schemes and knowing that many borrowers will default. Then, during the bust, they know the government will bail them out, and they will be able to buy up competitors for cheap and consolidate power. They may also bet against the same products they are selling during the boom (more here), knowing that they’ll make a killing when it busts.
It is not like economists weren’t warning about booms and busts. Nobel prize winner Hayek and others were, but were ignored because it was “inconvenient” to discuss this “impolite” issue.
Likewise, the entire Federal Reserve model is faulty, benefiting the banks themselves but not the public.
However, as Huffington Post notes:
The Federal Reserve, through its extensive network of consultants, visiting scholars, alumni and staff economists, so thoroughly dominates the field of economics that real criticism of the central bank has become a career liability for members of the profession, an investigation by the Huffington Post has found.
This dominance helps explain how, even after the Fed failed to foresee the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, the central bank has largely escaped criticism from academic economists. In the Fed’s thrall, the economists missed it, too.
“The Fed has a lock on the economics world,” says Joshua Rosner, a Wall Street analyst who correctly called the meltdown. “There is no room for other views, which I guess is why economists got it so wrong.”
The problems of a massive debt overhang were also thoroughly documented by Minsky, but mainstream economists pretended that debt doesn’t matter.
And – even now – mainstream economists are STILL willfully ignoring things like massive leverage, hoping that the economy can be pumped back up to super-leveraged house-of-cards levels.
As the Wall Street Journal article notes:
As they did in the two revolutions in economic thought of the past century, economists are rediscovering relevant work.
It is only “rediscovered” because it was out of favor, and it was only out of favor because it was seen as unnecessarily crimping profits by, for example, arguing for more moderation during boom times.
The powers-that-be do not like economists who say “Boys, if you don’t slow down, that bubble is going to get too big and pop right in your face”. They don’t want to hear that they can’t make endless money using crazy levels of leverage and 30-to-1 levels of fractional reserve banking, and credit derivatives. And of course, they don’t want to hear that the Federal Reserve is a big part of the problem.
Indeed, the Journal and the economists it quotes seem to be in no hurry whatsoever to change things:
The quest is bringing financial economists — long viewed by some as a curiosity mostly relevant to Wall Street — together with macroeconomists. Some believe a viable solution will emerge within a couple of years; others say it could take decades.
Saturday, PhD economist Michael Hudson made the same point:
I think that the question that needs to be asked is how the discipline was untracked and trivialized from its classical flowering? How did it become marginalized and trivialized, taking for granted the social structures and dynamics that should be the substance and focal point of its analysis?…
To answer this question, my book describes the “intellectual engineering” that has turned the economics discipline into a public relations exercise for the rentier classes criticized by the classical economists: landlords, bankers and monopolists. It was largely to counter criticisms of their unearned income and wealth, after all, that the post-classical reaction aimed to limit the conceptual “toolbox” of economists to become so unrealistic, narrow-minded and self-serving to the status quo. It has ended up as an intellectual ploy to distract attention away from the financial and property dynamics that are polarizing our world between debtors and creditors, property owners and renters, while steering politics from democracy to oligarchy…[As one Nobel prize winning economist stated,] “In pointing out the consequences of a set of abstract assumptions, one need not be committed unduly as to the relation between reality and these assumptions.”
Typical of this now widespread attitude is the textbook Microeconomics by William Vickery, winner of the 1997 Nobel Economics Prize:
“Economic theory proper, indeed, is nothing more than a system of logical relations between certain sets of assumptions and the conclusions derived from them… The validity of a theory proper does not depend on the correspondence or lack of it between the assumptions of the theory or its conclusions and observations in the real world. A theory as an internally consistent system is valid if the conclusions follow logically from its premises, and the fact that neither the premises nor the conclusions correspond to reality may show that the theory is not very useful, but does not invalidate it. In any pure theory, all propositions are essentially tautological, in the sense that the results are implicit in the assumptions made.”
Michael Rivero may have the hardest-hitting critique of all:
This seems to be a return to the mindset of the middle ages where only the clergy were allowed to read and interpret the bible and the laity were presumed incapable of comprehending the intricacies and subtle nuances of the faith.And indeed there is a great deal of similarity between economics and [fundamentalist version of] religion in that both depend on the unquestioning faith of the masses that those pretty printed pieces of paper represent something real, albeit invisible.
But the advent of the printing press led people to take a closer look at the actual content of [fundamentalist version of] religion and it has been revealed not as a complex and sophisticated system but as a mish-mash of half-baked myths and legends often in contradiction with itself and used to enrich the church ….
The same is true of economics. the advent of the blog has led people to take a closer look at the actual content of economics and it has been revealed not as a complex and sophisticated system but as a mish-mash of half-baked theories and math often in contradiction with itself and used to enrich the bankers and conceal their fraud against the public. [Federal Reserve economist Karthik Athreya, who claims that only people with a PhD in economics can comment on economic policy] is reacting to the blogs the way [fundamentalist] priests reacted to Gutenberg’s Printing Press.
The fraud and danger of the Federal Reserve system of banking stands exposed to the public eye, sans the “benefit” of correct interpretation by the self-appointed priests of Mammon. The public now understands that when a private bank issues the public currency at interest, debt will always exceed the available money supply. The public now understands that the Federal Reserve is no more Federal than Federal Express. The public now understands that the Federal Reserve is a legalized counterfeiting operation, that creates the money they loan out out of thin air! The public now understands that the Federal Reserve system of banking, since its creation in 1913, has reduced the value of a dollar down to about four cents! The public now understands that the Federal Reserve system is a pyramid scam that only works when ever larger populations of borrowers can be found, and that once an entire nation or planet has borrowed to the max, the system must crash (which is what is happening now).
Just as the [fundamentalist] priests, stripped of the arcane scriptures and rituals, stand exposed … so too the economists, stripped of their arcane equations and theories, stand exposed ….
Karthik Athreya doesn’t like that fact that the public sees the Federal Reserve for what it really is.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Not only have our government “leaders” in the Fed, Treasury, Congress and White House ignored the real world, they have taunted it – like monkeys who pull the tail of the lion and then are surprised when the lion attacks:
- Let the largest U.S. banks go bankrupt repeatedly due to wild speculation, then blessed the speculation and helped cover up the bankruptcies
- Privatized profits and socialized losses, trashed the real value of the dollar, and let corruption run rampant
- Covered up all of the fraud which led to the crisis
- Rewarded looting by the big banks
- Given trillions in bailout or other emergency funds to private companies, but then refusing to disclose to either the media, the American people or even Congress where the money went
- Blown bubble after bubble
- Plundered the treasury to effect “a massive redistribution of wealth to the bank shareholders and their top executives”
- Allowed high-frequency trading to completely warp the markets
- Waged unnecessary wars all over the world, so that even our top military commanders are begging to slash defense costs, and otherwise buried our nation under mountains of debt (see this, this, this, this, this and this)
Under these conditions, it is impossible to have a decent economy. After pulling these kind of shenanigans, of coursethe lion of debt and depression is going to eat us alive.