Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why the Bailout Scam Is More Likely to Fail than to Succeed

by Ismael Hossein-zadeh

Global Research,
October 14, 2008

The sad and sick status of our public finance (the rising budget deficits, the soaring national debt, the curtailment of crucially important social spending, and the resulting neglect of both social and physical infrastructure) is a direct consequence of our warped fiscal policies that give priority to the interests of the super rich at the expense of everybody else. It is a direct result of the looting of our public money through a combination of (a) huge “supply-side” tax cuts for the wealthy, and (b) drastic increases in the share of military spending at the expense of non-military public spending.

In a real sense, even the current financial meltdown is a logical outcome of an economic philosophy that promotes extreme social inequality. Contrary to “expert” punditry and popular perceptions, it is not simply due to personal greed; more importantly, it is the result of a systemic failure, or the outcome of the diverging and conflicting class interests.

Progressive taxation, social spending, New Deal reforms, and the War on Poverty were designed not only to protect the poor and working people against the woes and vagaries of market mechanism, but also to save capitalism from itself. Instead of viewing public spending on social safety net programs as long-term investment in the future of the nation, trickle-down economic philosophy views such expenditures as overheads that need to be cut as much as possible.

To this effect, proponents of this philosophy have since the early 1980s been working very hard to cut taxes for the wealthy, to cut non-military public spending, and to reverse most of the social safety net programs that were put in place by FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s War on Poverty.

Not surprisingly, the result has been an extreme concentration of national riches and resources in fewer and fewer hands, side-by-side with a steady deterioration of the living conditions of the overwhelming majority of our citizens. Unable to make ends meet, most of our citizens exceedingly resorted to borrowing.

Predatory lenders proved to be both creative and merciless in taking advantage of the economically vulnerable, or the legitimate aspirations and dreams of home-ownership. Unfettered by the irresponsible government deregulation policies, these rapacious lenders pushed loans, engaged in deceitful or fraudulent lending practices, and unscrupulously invented many shady financial instruments that resulted in the accumulation of massive amounts of fictitious assets that proved unviable, and eventually collapsed under their own dead weight.

Unless the lopsided national priorities and perverse fiscal policies, known as trickle down or neoliberal economics, which began under Ronald Reagan, are somewhat rectified or mitigated, and the resulting financial resources are invested through a broad and carefully-crafted plan of social and economic recovery, no bailout plan of the plutocrats, by the plutocrats, for the plutocrats can succeed in reversing the current cycle of economic decline.

Financial Meltdown: The Greatest Transfer of Wealth in History

How to Reverse the Tide and Democratize the US Monetary System

By Ellen Brown

Global Research, October 17, 2008

"Admit it, mes amis, the rugged individualism and cutthroat capitalism that made America the land of unlimited opportunity has been shrink-wrapped by half a dozen short sellers in Greenwich, Conn., and Fed-Exed to Washington, D.C., to be spoon-fed back to life by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. We’re now no different from any of those Western European semi-socialist welfare states that we love to deride."– Bill Saporito, "How We Became the United States of France," Time (September 21, 2008)

On October 15, the Presidential candidates had their last debate before the election. They talked of the baleful state of the economy and the stock market; but omitted from the discussion was what actually caused the credit freeze, and whether the banks should be nationalized as Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is now proceeding to do. The omission was probably excusable, since the financial landscape has been changing so fast that it is hard to keep up. A year ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke through 14,000 to make a new all-time high. Anyone predicting then that a year later the Dow would drop nearly by half and the Treasury would move to nationalize the banks would have been regarded with amused disbelief. But that is where we are today.1

Congress hastily voted to approve Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s $700 billion bank bailout plan on October 3, 2008, after a tumultuous week in which the Dow fell dangerously near the critical 10,000 level. The market, however, was not assuaged. The Dow proceeded to break through not only 10,000 but then 9,000 and 8,000, closing at 8,451 on Friday, October 10. The week was called the worst in U.S. stock market history.

On Monday, October 13, the market staged a comeback the likes of which had not been seen since 1933, rising a full 11% in one day. This happened after the government announced a plan to buy equity interests in key banks, partially nationalizing them; and the Federal Reserve led a push to flood the global financial system with dollars.

The reversal was dramatic but short-lived. On October 15, the day of the Presidential debate, the Dow dropped 733 points, crash landing at 8,578. The reversal is looking more like a massive pump and dump scheme – artificially inflating the market so insiders can get out – than a true economic rescue. The real problem is not in the much-discussed subprime market but is in the credit market, which has dried up. The banking scheme itself has failed. As was learned by painful experience during the Great Depression, the economy cannot be rescued by simply propping up failed banks. The banking system itself needs to be overhauled.

A Litany of Failed Rescue Plans

Credit has dried up because many banks cannot meet the 8% capital requirement that limits their ability to lend. A bank’s capital – the money it gets from the sale of stock or from profits – can be fanned into more than 10 times its value in loans; but this leverage also works the other way. While $80 in capital can produce $1,000 in loans, an $80 loss from default wipes out $80 in capital, reducing the sum that can be lent by $1,000. Since the banks have been experiencing widespread loan defaults, their capital base has shrunk proportionately.

The bank bailout plan announced on October 3 involved using taxpayer money to buy up mortgage-related securities from troubled banks. This was supposed to reduce the need for new capital by reducing the amount of risky assets on the banks’ books. But the banks’ risky assets include derivatives – speculative bets on market changes – and derivative exposure for U.S. banks is now estimated at a breathtaking $180 trillion.2 The sum represents an impossible-to-fill black hole that is three times the gross domestic product of all the countries in the world combined. As one critic said of Paulson’s roundabout bailout plan, "this seems designed to help Hank’s friends offload trash, more than to clear a market blockage."3

By Thursday, October 9, Paulson himself evidently had doubts about his ability to sell the plan. He wasn’t abandoning his old cronies, but he soft-pedaled that plan in favor of another option buried in the voluminous rescue package – using a portion of the $700 billion to buy stock in the banks directly. Plan B represented a controversial move toward nationalization, but it was an improvement over Plan A, which would have reduced capital requirements only by the value of the bad debts shifted onto the government’s books. In Plan B, the money would be spent on bank stock, increasing the banks’ capital base, which could then be leveraged into ten times that sum in loans. The plan was an improvement but the market was evidently not convinced, since the Dow proceeded to drop another thousand points from Thursday’s opening to Friday’s close.

One problem with Plan B was that it did not really mean nationalization (public ownership and control of the participating banks). Rather, it came closer to what has been called "crony capitalism" or "corporate welfare." The bank stock being bought would be non-voting preferred stock, meaning the government would have no say in how the bank was run. The Treasury would just be feeding the bank money to do with as it would. Management could continue to collect enormous salaries while investing in wildly speculative ventures with the taxpayers’ money. The banks could not be forced to use the money to make much-needed loans but could just use it to clean up their derivative-infested balance sheets. In the end, the banks were still liable to go bankrupt, wiping out the taxpayers’ investment altogether. Even if $700 billion were fanned into $7 trillion, the sum would not come close to removing the $180 trillion in derivative liabilities from the banks’ books. Shifting those liabilities onto the public purse would just empty the purse without filling the derivative black hole.

Plan C, the plan du jour, does impose some limits on management compensation. But the more significant feature of this week’s plan is the Fed’s new "Commercial Paper Funding Facility," which is slated to be operational on October 27, 2008. The facility would open the Fed’s lending window for short-term commercial paper, the money corporations need to fund their day-to-day business operations. On October 14, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York justified this extraordinary expansion of its lending powers by stating:

"The CPFF is authorized under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act, which permits the Board, in unusual and exigent circumstances, to authorize Reserve Banks to extend credit to individuals, partnerships, and corporations that are unable to obtain adequate credit accommodations. . . .

"The U.S. Treasury believes this facility is necessary to prevent substantial disruptions to the financial markets and the economy and will make a special deposit at the New York Fed in support of this facility."4

That means the government and the Fed are now committing even more public money and taking on even more public risk. The taxpayers are already tapped out, so the Treasury’s "special deposit" will no doubt come from U.S. bonds, meaning more debt on which the taxpayers have to pay interest. The federal debt could wind up running so high that the government loses its own triple-A rating. The U.S. could be reduced to Third World status, with "austerity measures" being imposed as a condition for further loans, and hyperinflation running the dollar into oblivion. Rather than solving the problem, these "rescue" plans seem destined to make it worse.

The Collapse of a 300 Year Ponzi Scheme

All the king’s men cannot put the private banking system together again, for the simple reason that it is a Ponzi scheme that has reached its mathematical limits. A Ponzi scheme is a form of pyramid scheme in which new investors must continually be sucked in at the bottom to support the investors at the top. In this case, new borrowers must continually be sucked in to support the creditors at the top. The Wall Street Ponzi scheme is built on "fractional reserve" lending, which allows banks to create "credit" (or "debt") with accounting entries. Banks are now allowed to lend from 10 to 30 times their "reserves," essentially counterfeiting the money they lend. Over 97 percent of the U.S. money supply (M3) has been created by banks in this way.5 The problem is that banks create only the principal and not the interest necessary to pay back their loans. Since bank lending is essentially the only source of new money in the system, someone somewhere must continually be taking out new loans just to create enough "money" (or "credit") to service the old loans composing the money supply. This spiraling interest problem and the need to find new debtors has gone on for over 300 years -- ever since the founding of the Bank of England in 1694 – until the whole world has now become mired in debt to the bankers’ private money monopoly. As British financial analyst Chris Cook observes:

"Exponential economic growth required by the mathematics of compound interest on a money supply based on money as debt must always run up eventually against the finite nature of Earth’s resources."6

The parasite has finally run out of its food source. But the crisis is not in the economy itself, which is fundamentally sound – or would be with a proper credit system to oil the wheels of production. The crisis is in the banking system, which can no longer cover up the shell game it has played for three centuries with other people’s money. Fortunately, we don’t need the credit of private banks. A sovereign government can create its own.

The New Deal Revisited

Today’s credit crisis is very similar to that facing Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. In 1932, President Hoover set up the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) as a federally-owned bank that would bail out commercial banks by extending loans to them, much as the privately-owned Federal Reserve is doing today. But like today, Hoover’s plan failed. The banks did not need more loans; they were already drowning in debt. They needed customers with money to spend and to invest. President Roosevelt used Hoover’s new government-owned lending facility to extend loans where they were needed most – for housing, agriculture and industry. Many new federal agencies were set up and funded by the RFC, including the HOLC (Home Owners Loan Corporation) and Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association, which was then a government-owned agency). In the 1940s, the RFC went into overdrive funding the infrastructure necessary for the U.S. to participate in World War II, setting the country up with the infrastructure it needed to become the world’s industrial leader after the war.

The RFC was a government-owned bank that sidestepped the privately-owned Federal Reserve; but unlike the private banks with which it was competing, the RFC had to have the money in hand before lending it. The RFC was funded by issuing government bonds (I.O.U.s or debt) and re-lending the proceeds. The result was to put the taxpayers further into debt. This problem could be avoided, however, by updating the RFC model. A system of public banks might be set up that had the power to create credit themselves, just as private banks do now. A public bank operating on the private bank model could fan $700 billion in capital reserves into $7 trillion in public credit that was derivative-free, liability-free, and readily available to fund all those things we think we don’t have the money for now, including the loans necessary to meet payrolls, fund mortgages, and underwrite public infrastructure.

Credit as a Public Utility

"Credit" can and should be a national utility, a public service provided by the government to the people it serves. Many people are opposed to getting the government involved in the banking system, but the fact is that the government is already involved. A modern-day RFC would actually mean less government involvement and a more efficient use of the already-earmarked $700 billion than policymakers are talking about now. The government would not need to interfere with the private banking system, which could carry on as before. The Treasury would not need to bail out the banks, which could be left to those same free market forces that have served them so well up to now. If banks went bankrupt, they could be put into FDIC receivership and nationalized. The government would then own a string of banks, which could be used to service the depository and credit needs of the community. There would be no need to change the personnel or procedures of these newly-nationalized banks. They could engage in "fractional reserve" lending just as they do now. The only difference would be that the interest on loans would return to the government, helping to defray the tax burden on the populace; and the banks would start out with a clean set of books, so their $700 billion in startup capital could be fanned into $7 trillion in new loans. This was the sort of banking scheme used in Benjamin Franklin’s colony of Pennsylvania, where it worked brilliantly well. The spiraling-interest problem was avoided by printing some extra money and spending it into the economy for public purposes. During the decades the provincial bank operated, the Pennsylvania colonists paid no taxes, there was no government debt, and inflation did not result.7

Like the Pennsylvania bank, a modern-day federal banking system would not actually need "reserves" at all. It is the sovereign right of a government to issue the currency of the realm. What backs our money today is simply "the full faith and credit of the United States," something the United States should be able to issue directly without having to draw on "reserves" of its own credit. But if Congress is not prepared to go that far, a more efficient use of the earmarked $700 billion than bailing out failing banks would be to designate the funds as the "reserves" for a newly-reconstituted RFC.

Rather than creating a separate public banking corporation called the RFC, the nation’s financial apparatus could be streamlined by simply nationalizing the privately-owned Federal Reserve; but again, Congress may not be prepared to go that far. Since there is already successful precedent for establishing an RFC in times like these, that model could serve as a non-controversial starting point for a new public credit facility. The G-7 nations’ financial planners, who met in Washington D.C. this past weekend, appear intent on supporting the banking system with enough government-debt-backed "liquidity" to produce what Jim Rogers calls "an inflationary holocaust." As the U.S. private banking system self-destructs, we need to ensure that a public credit system is in place and ready to serve the people’s needs in its stead.

Most Serious Financial Crisis in World History

October 17, 2008

Why the Bailout Scam Is More Likely to Fail than to Succeed

by Ismael Hossein-zadeh

Global Research, October 14, 2008

Leaving the issue of fraud aside, the bail out scam is also doomed to fail because it avoids diagnosis and dodges the heart of the problem: the inability of more than five million homeowners to pay their fraudulently ballooned mortgage obligations.

Instead of trying to salvage the threatened real assets or homes and save their owners from becoming homeless, the bailout scheme is trying to salvage the phony or fictitious assets of the Wall Street gambler and reward their sins by sending taxpayers’ good money after gamblers bad money. It focuses on the wrong end of the problem.

The apparent rationale for the bailout plan is that while the injection of tax payers’ money into the Wall Street casino may not be fair, it is a necessary evil that will free the “troubled assets” and create liquidity in the financial markets, thereby triggering a much-needed wave of lending, borrowing and expansion.

There are at least five major problems with this argument.

The first major problem is that the current financial disaster is not really a liquidity problem as it is repeatedly portrayed to be. It is a problem of faith and trust, or lack thereof, which in turn stems from the disproportionately large amount of junk assets or mortgages relative to real assets. It is true that lending and credit expansion has almost come to a halt and, in this sense, there is a serious liquidity crisis. But this illiquidity is not really due to a lack of good money or real assets in the system. It is rather because owners of such valuable assets are unwilling to lend their precious possessions to owners of troubled assets, or worthless papers.

As Herman E. Daly, University of Maryland economist, puts it, “The value of present real wealth is no longer sufficient to serve as a lien to guarantee the exploding debt. Consequently the debt is being devalued in terms of existing wealth. No one any longer is eager to trade real present wealth for debt even at high interest rates. This is because the debt is worth much less, not because there is not enough money or credit.”

The second major problem with the bailout scheme is that it is simply unfeasible and ineffectual because there is just not enough good money to redeem all the bad money that has ballooned or bubbled to a multiple of the good money and/or real assets.

The initial $700 billion bailout money falls way short of what is needed to rescue the Wall Street gamblers, as it is only a fraction of their accumulated bad debt. According to a September 29 Washington Post report:

“Twenty of the nation's largest financial institutions owned a combined total of $2.3 trillion in mortgages as of June 30. They owned another $1.2 trillion of mortgage-backed securities. And they reported selling another $1.2 trillion in mortgage-related investments on which they retained hundreds of billions of dollars in potential liability, according to filings the firms made with regulatory agencies. The numbers do not include investments derived from mortgages in more complicated ways, such as collateralized debt obligations.”

These three categories of mortgage-related financial instruments add up to a $4.7 trillion obligation for the twenty largest financial institutions. This is nearly seven times as large as the initial Paulson/Bernanke bailout plan of $700 billion, which means the plan is destined to be ineffectual.

Nationwide, the ratio of bad to good money is much higher. According to Herman E. Daly, “Financial assets have grown by a large multiple of the real economy—paper exchanging for paper is now 20 times greater than exchanges of paper for real commodities.” This means that the initial $700 billion bailout fund is simply a drop in the sea of bad debt, and that, therefore, there is not enough good money to pay for the mountain of junk assets accumulated by the gambling financial institutions.

The third major flaw of the bailout plan is that, as mentioned earlier, it does not address the real problem: the problem of rescuing the financially-distressed homeowners. As Dr. Paul Craig Roberts points out, “the Paulson bailout does not address the core problem. It only addresses the problem for the financial institutions that hold the troubled assets. Under the bailout plan, the troubled assets move from the banks' books to the Treasury's. But the underlying problem--the continuing diminishment of mortgage and home values--remains and continues to worsen.”

Simply moving soured assets from fraudulent lenders to the Treasury, that is, buying junk mortgages at face value, will neither help the millions of homeowners facing homelessness, nor help mitigate the raging financial crisis. The bailout should, instead, focus on defrauded homeowners and real assets, not fictitious capital and its unscrupulous owners.

Instead of trying to salvage a mountain of soured assets and prop up bankrupt institutions, the government should allow for a market cleansing, or destruction, of such worthless assets by purchasing the threatened mortgages not at their inflated face value but at the current, depreciated, or market value—as the FDR government did in response the Great Depression of the 1930s.

This alternative, homeowner-based solution would have a number of advantages. First, and foremost, it would help citizens facing the specter of homelessness stay in their homes by allowing them to pay affordable mortgage installments based on reduced or realistic home prices.

By the same token, this solution would also allow the government to gradually recover the market-based home prices it would be paying the troubled commercial mortgage holders. Obviously, this means that, instead of the predatory banks and similar financial institutions, the government would now be the title holder of the rescued homes; of course, until such homes are paid for, upon which time the homeowners would take the possession of their home titles.

By cleansing the market of the dead-weight of tons of junk assets, and allowing threatened homeowners to pay affordable mortgage installments, this bottom-up solution would also help restore faith and trust in the financial system, and in the lending and borrowing mechanism—thereby also mitigating the liquidity crisis.

Furthermore, by bailing out homeowners (and real assets) instead of Wall Street gambler, the government would need only a fraction of the money needed to pay for the huge bubble of the junk assets that have ballooned on top of a much narrower base of real assets. Compared with the scandalous Paulson/Bernanke bailout scheme, this means that the government would end up with enough excess money to invest on a long-term, robust stimulus plan a la the New Deal of the 1930s.

And this brings us to the discussion of the fourth major problem of the Paulson/Bernanke bailout scam: lack of any economic stimulus plan, which is badly needed for economic revival. While government substitution for predatory lenders and the resulting institution of realistic or devalued mortgage installments will certainly lighten the financial burdens of the economically-pressed, it will not relieve them from the need to earn an income and make a decent living. Nor would it (by itself) provide the badly needed purchasing power or necessary demand to stimulate the economy.

To achieve such broader socio-economic objectives requires no less than duplicating (and perhaps even going beyond) FDR’s New Deal reform package that proved critical in ending the Great Depression of the 1930s. A comprehensive long-term public investment in both social and physical infrastructure (health, education, roads, bridges, levees, schools, green energy, etc.) is bound to create jobs, inject purchasing power and liquidity into the economy, and revive production and expansion.

Of course, such an urgently needed comprehensive investment in the future of our society requires extensive public financing, which, in turn, requires a careful and socially-responsible fiscal policy. And this brings us to the fifth major problem of the Paulson/Bernanke bail out scheme: absence of any mention, let alone change, of our warped or lop-sided fiscal policies and priorities.

Liquidating the Empire

By Patrick j. Buchanan

14/10/08 "Information Clearinghouse" --- “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers.”

So Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon advised Herbert Hoover in the Great Crash of ‘29.

Hoover did. And the nation liquidated him — and the Republicans.

In the Crash of 2008, 40 percent of stock value has vanished, almost $9 trillion. Some $5 trillion in real estate value has disappeared. A recession looms with sweeping layoffs, unemployment compensation surging, and social welfare benefits soaring.

America’s first trillion-dollar deficit is at hand.

In Fiscal Year 2008 the deficit was $438 billion.

With tax revenue sinking, we will add to this year’s deficit the $200 to $300 billion needed to wipe the rotten paper off the books of Fannie and Freddie, the $700 billion (plus the $100 billion in add-ons and pork) for the Wall Street bailout, the $85 billion to bail out AIG, and $37 billion more now needed, the $25 billion for GM, Chrysler and Ford, and the hundreds of billions Hank Paulson will need to buy corporate paper and bail out banks to stop the panic.

As Americans save nothing, where are the feds going to get the money? Is the Fed going to print it and destroy the dollar and credit rating of the United States? Because the nations whose vaults are full of dollars and U.S. debt — China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arabs — are reluctant to lend us more. Sovereign wealth funds that plunged billions into U.S. banks have already been burned.

Uncle Sam’s VISA card is about to be stamped “Canceled.”

The budget is going to have to go under the knife. But what gets cut?

Social Security and Medicare are surely exempt. Seniors have already taken a huge hit in their 401(k)s. And as the Democrats are crafting another $150 billion stimulus package for the working poor and middle class, Medicaid and food stamps are untouchable. Interest on the debt cannot be cut. It is going up. Will a Democratic Congress slash unemployment benefits, welfare, education, student loans, veterans benefits — in a recession?

No way. Yet, that is almost the entire U.S. budget — except for defense, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and foreign aid. And this is where the axe will eventually fall.

It is the American Empire that is going to be liquidated.

Retrenchment has begun with Bush’s backing away from confrontations with Axis-of-Evil charter members Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs, and will likely continue with a negotiated peace in Afghanistan. Gen. Petraeus and Secretary Gates are already talking “reconciliation” with the Taliban.

We no longer live in Eisenhower or Reagan’s America. Even the post-Cold War world of George H. W. Bush, where America was a global hegemon, is history. In both relative and real terms, the U.S.A. is a diminished power.

Where Ike spent 9 percent of GDP on defense, Reagan 6 percent, we spend 4 percent. Yet we have two wars bleeding us and many more nations to defend, with commitments in the Baltic, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans we did not have in the Cold War. As U.S. weapons systems are many times more expensive today, we have fewer strategic aircraft and Navy ships than Ike or Reagan commanded. Our active-duty Army and Marine Corps consist of 700,000 troops, 15 percent women, and a far higher percentage of them support rather than combat troops.

With so few legions, we cannot police the world, and we cannot afford more. Yet, we have a host of newly hostile nations we did not have in 1989.

U.S. interests in Latin America are being challenged not only by Cuba, but Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Honduras. Brazil, Argentina and Chile go their own way. Russia is reasserting hegemony in the Caucasus, testing new ICBMs, running bomber probes up to U.S. air space. China, growing at 10 percent as we head into recession, is bristling over U.S. military sales to Taiwan. Iran remains defiant. Pakistan is rife with anti-Americanism and al-Qaida sentiment.

The American Empire has become a vast extravagance.

With U.S. markets crashing and wealth vanishing, what are we doing with 750 bases and troops in over 100 countries?

With a recession of unknown depth and duration looming, why keep borrowing billions from rich Arabs to defend rich Europeans, or billions from China and Japan to hand out in Millennium Challenge Grants to Tanzania and Burkina Faso?

America needs a bottom-up review of all strategic commitments dating to a Cold War now over for 20 years.

Is it essential to keep 30,000 troops in a South Korea with twice the population and 40 times the wealth of the North? Why are McCain and Obama offering NATO memberships, i.e., war guarantees against Russia, to a Georgia run by a hothead like Mikheil Saakashvili, and a Ukraine, millions of whose people prefer their kinship to Russia to an alliance with us?

We must put “country first,” says John McCain.

Right you are, Senator. Time to look out for America first