Economic Darwinism

Natural History of Fire & Flood Cycles

Posted in Uncategorized by Economic Darwinism on August 14, 2010

In reference to the analogies presented in my previous article, please have a look at this article:

Natural History of Fire & Flood Cycles

While reading it, replace

  • “forest fire” with “recession”
  • “fire cycle” with “business cycle”
  • “ecosystem” with “economy”
  • “fire suppression” with “stimulus”
  • Etc

The following passage is so directly relevant to my point, I will reproduce it in its entirety (my highlights in bold):

Fire Suppression

As development has extended, or exploded as it has in some areas, into the chaparral environment, residents and government agencies have had to respond to the hazards associated with living in the urban/wildland interface. The majority of urban settlers who moved into these wildland areas are ignorant of the environment they are moving into and ill equipped to live in this wildland environment. Too often home buyers fail to realize that fire protection agencies may not be able to save their home from fire, and that agencies charged with building and safety and flood control may be powerless to save them from floods, mudflows, and landslides.

The primary response from government has been to initiation aggressive fire suppression and management in an attempt to eliminate fire from native lands. In spite of these aggressive fire suppression efforts large wildfires continue to consume vast acreages of chaparral in Southern California. After nearly a century of suppression, there has been increasing debate that fire control efforts have altered chaparral fire regimes in ways that magnify the threat of burning, erosion, sedimentation, and flooding at the urban/wildland interface (Pyne 1982). Fire suppression in Southern California appears to be producing older growth stands of chaparral which result in larger more intense fires. Younger chaparral stands (less than 20 years) are less likely to burn due to lower ratios of dead fuel to live fuels and reduced horizontal and vertical continuity of fuels. In northern Baja California where fire suppression has not been practiced to the extent it has in Southern California a mosaic pattern of differing age stands of chaparral appears to have developed resulting in smaller fire events of less intensity. Minnich (1983) comparing the chaparral fire regimes in southern California and Baja California found that in Baja California numerous small fire events fragment stands into a fine mixture of age classes, a process which appears to help preclude large fires. While the pattern of large fires in Southern California appears to be an artifact of suppression.

Fire suppression is extremely effective at the ignition stages of a fire and where climatic conditions are favorable. Therefore, fires occurring in Southern California in the summer during periods of higher humidity, lower wind speeds and temperatures are much more easily controlled. Most of Southern California’s major fires occur in the very late summer and fall periods during off shore wind conditions (Santa Ana Winds) which are characterized by high temperatures, low humidity and very high wind speeds. Fires in this type of severe weather conditions are extremely difficult and in many cases impossible to control. This type of weather scenario in conjunction with extensive areas of older chaparral stands result in fire magnitudes so great that entire watersheds are completely denuded of vegetation. This intense type of fire can even consume young moist stands of chaparral.

The extent of burned watershed can magnify flash-flood runoff behavior and high sediment yield in an exponential fashion (Minnich, 1989). Higher regional fire intensities may also result in more extensive hydrophobic soil impermeability and high runoff (Minnich, 1989). These adverse watershed impacts can be moderated by implementing a sustained-yield program of small to medium size planned burns to produce the stand mosaic similar to the Baja California chaparral model.

Prescribed burns adjacent to the urban wildland interface can present some challenging problems. The common complaints voiced by residents of these areas are the annoyance and potential health effects of the smoke, reduced visibility and potential danger of the controlled fire escaping and endangering their residences. Furthermore, air quality regulations, particularly in Southern California, severely limit the time of year these burns may occur. Given these constraints the prescribed burning near the urban wildland interface can be carried out only on a very limited basis. However, even on a limited basis prescribed burning in the urban wildland interface can be a valuable cost effective fire management tool for protection agencies.

The proximity of the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains to the Los Angeles metropolitan region coupled with it’s coastal location, breath taking views, access to undisturbed natural areas, and sense of rural living make this a very desirable area. With proper land use planning, site planning, building codes and vegetation clearance it is possible to significantly reduce the threat of fire in the Chaparral community. However, the problem in the Santa Monica Mountains is there are literally thousands of existing legal undeveloped parcels comprising hundreds of acres of land area that are located in very remote, topographically constrained, and environmentally sensitive areas. These factors make it quite difficult to mitigate the threat of fire and adverse environmental impacts.

There are also a number of very poorly planned subdivisions which were divided in the late 1920s and 30s with lot sizes of less than an acre and many more typically 5,000 to 10,000 sq. ft. in size. These subdivisions were primarily designed for weekend cabin type of use. However, today the expensive homes built on these parcels are occupied on a year round basis. There are approximately 6,000 of these ill-conceived small parcels in the Santa Monica Mountains. These subdivisions have very narrow winding roads which cannot accommodate fire equipment and are for the most part very heavily wooded with both natural and exotic plant species. These types of subdivisions are disasters just waiting to happen.

Proper site design on a large parcel can reduce fire danger to some extent, however, in these small lot subdivisions it is impossible in many cases to significantly reduce the fire hazards given the very steep site topography, lack of adequate water supply, proximity to other structures and limited access for fire equipment.

Given that the threat of fire alone has not provide an adequate basis to prohibit development on these parcels and given the more rigorous requirements placed on regulatory agencies by recent court decisions regarding constitutional takings of private property, these parcels are and will continue building out. Furthermore, as most of us know today regulatory agencies are facing even more severe limitations and restrictive requirements regarding regulation of private property. Therefore, the over simplified argument, which is voiced quite often is “just deny all development of homes on these parcels” is just not realistic or legally justifiable.

In order to reduce the buildout of these subdivisions and remote environmentally sensitive parcels the California Coastal Commission developed the Transfer of Development program in the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains Area of the Coastal Zone. Simply the Transfer of Development program requires that any time a new parcel is created through the subdivision process, the equivalent development rights on designated small lot subdivision lots or remote environmentally sensitive parcels have to be retired. In theory, the newly created subdivisions are located in areas more suitable for this type of development. To date 924 substandard lots have been retired in small lot subdivisions and some 800 acres of remote environmentally sensitive parcels have been retired. Making the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains Transfer of Development program one of the most successful in the United States.

Prescribed Fire Economics

Posted in Uncategorized by Economic Darwinism on August 14, 2010

I enjoyed Market Talks quote of the day:

I wish free money was really free and that there was a painless way to move from severe recession and high leverage to robust and sustainable economic growth, but there is no short cut.

– Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig, arguing the Fed needs to raise interest rates.

It seems everyone is looking for a painless solution. Even Felix Salmon comments about  “causing unacceptable amounts of pain” in his half-supportive half-opposed article on Santelli’s righteous (and right on) recent rant.

If we let housing find its bottom naturally, true, many financial institutions will cease to exist. True, we may look back at 2008 as the “good ol’ days” before things got really ugly.

But at this point, letting things get ugly is exactly what we need for the long run. Let the fittest businesses survive.

The analogy I like to use is a technique often used in forest management, i.e prescribed burns.

Imagine a world completely fearful of the tiniest of forest fires. Whenever a fire broke out, even a mild one, the entire Federal (Forest) Reserve  was called out to extinguish it. Years and even decades go by without even a single lost home due to forest fire. People started talking about a Great (Forest Fire) Moderation. Some even proclaimed that the forest fire cycle that used to be standard reading material in many, now obviously obsolete, forest management textbooks for years had been defeated by the Federal (Forest) Reserve.

The mantra became, “Let all vegetation flourish!” Never fear. If natural selection has lead certain vegetation populations to dwindle in the past, we’ll have none of that. Come one and all. Prosper in the new age of forest fire management where forest fires no longer exist.

Guess what happens? The forest floor becomes flush with vegetation (read fuel). All around, as far as the eye can see, nothing but flourishing vegetation (read fuel). Forest Rangers are happy. Politicians are happy. Everyone is happy.

But one day, there is a particularly strong wind. The Federal (Forest) Reserve has not yet figured out how to control the weather unfortunately. A fire breaks out and quickly spreads. At this point, the brush is so dense providing a never ending supply of fuel. Similar to the critical neutron mass of a nuclear reaction, the fire spreads exponentially. Soon, there is an inferno far larger than the world has ever seen.

Monetary policy should not be about avoiding forest fires at all costs. Monetary policy should be about prescribed burns. Let the vegetation that is unfit for survival perish. It is better to have a controlled burn now and then than to have an uncontrollable inferno.

Blinder not Receiving Enough Credit for “Cash for Clunkers”

Posted in Alan Blinder, Cash for Clunkers, Federal Reserve by Economic Darwinism on August 8, 2009

The campaign for who will be the next Fed chairman is now well under way. The front runners are Bernanke, Summers, and Yellen with an occasional nod to Blinder. In my opnion, we should immediately cross off the first two. The choice is really between Yellen and Blinder. What has Yellen done recently? The highly successful and popular “Cash for Clunkers” programs is a very pragmatic and smart solution to a real problem. This is Blinder’s baby and he should hire some lobbyists or something to help him market that fact. Everyone knows the “Cash for Clunkers” program but how many people know that Alan Blinder is the guy behind it and how many of those people know that Bernanke’s term at the Fed is ending and Blinder is a candidate to replace him?

Being smart is not good enough. Alan Blinder needs better marketing if he wants to be the next Fed chairman. I think he should be.

Geithner Admits Treasury is a Ponzi Scheme

Posted in Geithner, Ponzi, Treasury by Economic Darwinism on August 8, 2009

This is unbelievable. From Reuters:

Geithner asks Congress for higher U.S. debt limit

“It is critically important that Congress act before the limit is reached so that citizens and investors here and around the world can remain confident that the United States will always meet its obligations,” Geithner said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that was obtained by Reuters.

So the only way to pay existing investors is to issue more debt to new investors?

Disclosure: I own shares in TMV.

Testimony of Chairman Ben S. Bernanke: July 18, 2007

Posted in Uncategorized by Economic Darwinism on July 26, 2009

For Yves Smith:

Testimony of Chairman Ben S. Bernanke
Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress
Before the Committee on Financial Services, U.S. House of Representatives
July 18, 2007

Chairman Bernanke presented identical testimony before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate, on July 19, 2007

Chairman Frank, Ranking Member Bachus, and members of the Committee, I am pleased to present the Federal Reserve’s Monetary Policy Report to the Congress.  As you know, this occasion marks the thirtieth year of semiannual testimony on the economy and monetary policy by the Federal Reserve.  In establishing these hearings, the Congress proved prescient in anticipating the worldwide trend toward greater transparency and accountability of central banks in the making of monetary policy.  Over the years, these testimonies and the associated reports have proved an invaluable vehicle for the Federal Reserve’s communication with the public about monetary policy, even as they have served to enhance the Federal Reserve’s accountability for achieving the dual objectives of maximum employment and price stability set for it by the Congress.  I take this opportunity to reiterate the Federal Reserve’s strong support of the dual mandate; in pursuing maximum employment and price stability, monetary policy makes its greatest possible contribution to the general economic welfare.

Let me now review the current economic situation and the outlook, beginning with developments in the real economy and the situation regarding inflation before turning to monetary policy.  I will conclude with comments on issues related to lending to households and consumer protection–topics not normally addressed in monetary policy testimony but, in light of recent developments, deserving of our attention today.

After having run at an above-trend rate earlier in the current economic recovery, U.S. economic growth has proceeded during the past year at a pace more consistent with sustainable expansion.  Despite the downshift in growth, the demand for labor has remained solid, with more than 850,000 jobs having been added to payrolls thus far in 2007 and the unemployment rate having remained at 4-1/2 percent. The combination of moderate gains in output and solid advances in employment implies that recent increases in labor productivity have been modest by the standards of the past decade.  The cooling of productivity growth in recent quarters is likely the result of cyclical or other temporary factors, but the underlying pace of productivity gains may also have slowed somewhat.

To a considerable degree, the slower pace of economic growth in recent quarters reflects the ongoing adjustment in the housing sector.  Over the past year, home sales and construction have slowed substantially and house prices have decelerated.  Although a leveling-off of home sales in the second half of 2006 suggested some tentative stabilization of housing demand, sales have softened further this year, leading the number of unsold new homes in builders’ inventories to rise further relative to the pace of new home sales.  Accordingly, construction of new homes has sunk further, with starts of new single-family houses thus far this year running 10 percent below the pace in the second half of last year.

The pace of home sales seems likely to remain sluggish for a time, partly as a result of some tightening in lending standards and the recent increase in mortgage interest rates.  Sales should ultimately be supported by growth in income and employment as well as by mortgage rates that–despite the recent increase–remain fairly low relative to historical norms.  However, even if demand stabilizes as we expect, the pace of construction will probably fall somewhat further as builders work down stocks of unsold new homes.  Thus, declines in residential construction will likely continue to weigh on economic growth over coming quarters, although the magnitude of the drag on growth should diminish over time.

Real consumption expenditures appear to have slowed last quarter, following two quarters of rapid expansion.  Consumption outlays are likely to continue growing at a moderate pace, aided by a strong labor market.  Employment should continue to expand, though possibly at a somewhat slower pace than in recent years as a result of the recent moderation in the growth of output and ongoing demographic shifts that are expected to lead to a gradual decline in labor force participation.  Real compensation appears to have risen over the past year, and barring further sharp increases in consumer energy costs, it should rise further as labor demand remains strong and productivity increases.

In the business sector, investment in equipment and software showed a modest gain in the first quarter.  A similar outcome is likely for the second quarter, as weakness in the volatile transportation equipment category appears to have been offset by solid gains in other categories.  Investment in nonresidential structures, after slowing sharply late last year, seems to have grown fairly vigorously in the first half of 2007.  Like consumption spending, business fixed investment overall seems poised to rise at a moderate pace, bolstered by gains in sales and generally favorable financial conditions.  Late last year and early this year, motor vehicle manufacturers and firms in several other industries found themselves with elevated inventories, which led them to reduce production to better align inventories with sales.  Excess inventories now appear to have been substantially eliminated and should not prove a further restraint on growth.

The global economy continues to be strong.  Supported by solid economic growth abroad, U.S. exports should expand further in coming quarters.  Nonetheless, our trade deficit–which was about 5-1/4 percent of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter–is likely to remain high.

For the most part, financial markets have remained supportive of economic growth.  However, conditions in the subprime mortgage sector have deteriorated significantly, reflecting mounting delinquency rates on adjustable-rate loans.  In recent weeks, we have also seen increased concerns among investors about credit risk on some other types of financial instruments.  Credit spreads on lower-quality corporate debt have widened somewhat, and terms for some leveraged business loans have tightened.  Even after their recent rise, however, credit spreads remain near the low end of their historical ranges, and financing activity in the bond and business loan markets has remained fairly brisk.

Overall, the U.S. economy appears likely to expand at a moderate pace over the second half of 2007, with growth then strengthening a bit in 2008 to a rate close to the economy’s underlying trend.  Such an assessment was made around the time of the June meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) by the members of the Board of Governors and the presidents of the Reserve Banks, all of whom participate in deliberations on monetary policy.  The central tendency of the growth forecasts, which are conditioned on the assumption of appropriate monetary policy, is for real GDP to expand roughly 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 percent this year and 2-1/2 to 2-3/4 percent in 2008.  The forecasted performance for this year is about 1/4 percentage point below that projected in February, the difference being largely the result of weaker-than-expected residential construction activity this year.  The unemployment rate is anticipated to edge up to between 4-1/2 and 4-3/4 percent over the balance of this year and about 4-3/4 percent in 2008, a trajectory about the same as the one expected in February.

I turn now to the inflation situation.  Sizable increases in food and energy prices have boosted overall inflation and eroded real incomes in recent months–both unwelcome developments.  As measured by changes in the price index for personal consumption expenditures (PCE inflation), inflation ran at an annual rate of 4.4 percent over the first five months of this year, a rate that, if maintained, would clearly be inconsistent with the objective of price stability. 1 Because monetary policy works with a lag, however, policymakers must focus on the economic outlook.  Food and energy prices tend to be quite volatile, so that, looking forward, core inflation (which excludes food and energy prices) may be a better gauge than overall inflation of underlying inflation trends.  Core inflation has moderated slightly over the past few months, with core PCE inflation coming in at an annual rate of about 2 percent so far this year.

Although the most recent readings on core inflation have been favorable, month-to-month movements in inflation are subject to considerable noise, and some of the recent improvement could also be the result of transitory influences.  However, with long-term inflation expectations contained, futures prices suggesting that investors expect energy and other commodity prices to flatten out, and pressures in both labor and product markets likely to ease modestly, core inflation should edge a bit lower, on net, over the remainder of this year and next year.  The central tendency of FOMC participants’ forecasts for core PCE inflation–2 to 2-1/4 percent for 2007 and 1-3/4 to 2 percent in 2008–is unchanged from February.  If energy prices level off as currently anticipated, overall inflation should slow to a pace close to that of core inflation in coming quarters.

At each of its four meetings so far this year, the FOMC maintained its target for the federal funds rate at 5-1/4 percent, judging that the existing stance of policy was likely to be consistent with growth running near trend and inflation staying on a moderating path.  As always, in determining the appropriate stance of policy, we will be alert to the possibility that the economy is not evolving in the way we currently judge to be the most likely.  One risk to the outlook is that the ongoing housing correction might prove larger than anticipated, with possible spillovers onto consumer spending.  Alternatively, consumer spending, which has advanced relatively vigorously, on balance, in recent quarters, might expand more quickly than expected; in that case, economic growth could rebound to a pace above its trend.  With the level of resource utilization already elevated, the resulting pressures in labor and product markets could lead to increased inflation over time.  Yet another risk is that energy and commodity prices could continue to rise sharply, leading to further increases in headline inflation and, if those costs passed through to the prices of non-energy goods and services, to higher core inflation as well.  Moreover, if inflation were to move higher for an extended period and that increase became embedded in longer-term inflation expectations, the re-establishment of price stability would become more difficult and costly to achieve.  With the level of resource utilization relatively high and with a sustained moderation in inflation pressures yet to be convincingly demonstrated, the FOMC has consistently stated that upside risks to inflation are its predominant policy concern.

*  *  *

In addition to its dual mandate to promote maximum employment and price stability, the Federal Reserve has an important responsibility to help protect consumers in financial services transactions.  For nearly forty years, the Federal Reserve has been active in implementing, interpreting, and enforcing consumer protection laws.  I would like to discuss with you this morning some of our recent initiatives and actions, particularly those related to subprime mortgage lending.

Promoting access to credit and to homeownership are important objectives, and responsible subprime mortgage lending can help advance both goals.  In designing regulations, policymakers should seek to preserve those benefits.  That said, the recent rapid expansion of the subprime market was clearly accompanied by deterioration in underwriting standards and, in some cases, by abusive lending practices and outright fraud.  In addition, some households took on mortgage obligations they could not meet, perhaps in some cases because they did not fully understand the terms.  Financial losses have subsequently induced lenders to tighten their underwriting standards.  Nevertheless, rising delinquencies and foreclosures are creating personal, economic, and social distress for many homeowners and communities–problems that likely will get worse before they get better.

The Federal Reserve is responding to these difficulties at both the national and the local levels.  In coordination with the other federal supervisory agencies, we are encouraging the financial industry to work with borrowers to arrange prudent loan modifications to avoid unnecessary foreclosures.  Federal Reserve Banks around the country are cooperating with community and industry groups that work directly with borrowers having trouble meeting their mortgage obligations.  We continue to work with organizations that provide counseling about mortgage products to current and potential homeowners.  We are also meeting with market participants–including lenders, investors, servicers, and community groups–to discuss their concerns and to gain information about market developments.

We are conducting a top-to-bottom review of possible actions we might take to help prevent recurrence of these problems.  First, we are committed to providing more-effective disclosures to help consumers defend against improper lending.  Three years ago, the Board began a comprehensive review of Regulation Z, which implements the Truth in Lending Act (TILA).  The initial focus of our review was on disclosures related to credit cards and other revolving credit accounts.  After conducting extensive consumer testing, we issued a proposal in May that would require credit card issuers to provide clearer and easier-to-understand disclosures to customers.  In particular, the new disclosures would highlight applicable rates and fees, particularly penalties that might be imposed.  The proposed rules would also require card issuers to provide forty-five days’ advance notice of a rate increase or any other change in account terms so that consumers will not be surprised by unexpected charges and will have time to explore alternatives.

We are now engaged in a similar review of the TILA rules for mortgage loans.  We began this review last year by holding four public hearings across the country, during which we gathered information on the adequacy of disclosures for mortgages, particularly for nontraditional and adjustable-rate products.  As we did with credit card lending, we will conduct extensive consumer testing of proposed disclosures.  Because the process of designing and testing disclosures involves many trial runs, especially given today’s diverse and sometimes complex credit products, it may take some time to complete our review and propose new disclosures.

However, some other actions can be implemented more quickly.  By the end of the year, we will propose changes to TILA rules to address concerns about mortgage loan advertisements and solicitations that may be incomplete or misleading and to require lenders to provide mortgage disclosures more quickly so that consumers can get the information they need when it is most useful to them.  We already have improved a disclosure that creditors must provide to every applicant for an adjustable-rate mortgage product to explain better the features and risks of these products, such as “payment shock” and rising loan balances.

We are certainly aware, however, that disclosure alone may not be sufficient to protect consumers.  Accordingly, we plan to exercise our authority under the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA) to address specific practices that are unfair or deceptive.  We held a public hearing on June 14 to discuss industry practices, including those pertaining to pre-payment penalties, the use of escrow accounts for taxes and insurance, stated-income and low-documentation lending, and the evaluation of a borrower’s ability to repay.  The discussion and ideas we heard were extremely useful, and we look forward to receiving additional public comments in coming weeks.  Based on the information we are gathering, I expect that the Board will propose additional rules under HOEPA later this year.

In coordination with the other federal supervisory agencies, last year we issued principles-based guidance on nontraditional mortgages, and in June of this year we issued supervisory guidance on subprime lending.  These statements emphasize the fundamental consumer protection principles of sound underwriting and effective disclosures.  In addition, we reviewed our policies related to the examination of nonbank subsidiaries of bank and financial holding companies for compliance with consumer protection laws and guidance.

As a result of that review and following discussions with the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Federal Trade Commission, and state regulators, as represented by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors and the American Association of Residential Mortgage Regulators, we are launching a cooperative pilot project aimed at expanding consumer protection compliance reviews at selected nondepository lenders with significant subprime mortgage operations.  The reviews will begin in the fourth quarter of this year and will include independent state-licensed mortgage lenders, nondepository mortgage lending subsidiaries of bank and thrift holding companies, and mortgage brokers doing business with or serving as agents of these entities.  The agencies will collaborate in determining the lessons learned and in seeking ways to better cooperate in ensuring effective and consistent examinations of and improved enforcement for nondepository mortgage lenders.  Working together to address jurisdictional issues and to improve information-sharing among agencies, we will seek to prevent abusive and fraudulent lending while ensuring that consumers retain access to beneficial credit.

I believe that the actions I have described today will help address the current problems.  The Federal Reserve looks forward to working with the Congress on these important issues.


1. Despite the recent surge, total PCE inflation is 2.3 percent over the past twelve months. Return to text

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2007 Testimony

Barry Ritholtz Hits it Out of the Park

Posted in Action, Bailout, Barry Ritholtz, Obama by Economic Darwinism on June 28, 2009

If President Obama reads one interview this year on the financial crisis, it should be, without a doubt, this interview Barry Ritholtz did for Welling@Weeden:

Fix What’s Broken
Barry Ritholtz Takes Aim at What the Regulatory Proposal Leaves Out

Letter to Obama: Appoint Blinder to Fed, Summers to Treasury

Posted in Alan Blinder, Geithner, Larry Summers, Letter to Obama by Economic Darwinism on June 25, 2009

It didn’t take a crystal ball to see that the jockeying for who will be the next Fed Chairman would begin to heat up. On June 15, I pointed out that the assumption going around has been that either Bernanke will be reappointed or Summers would take over the reigns. In light of blistering testimony today, it is increasingly clear that Bernanke will not be reappointed. I can’t see Summers as Fed Chairman either. I do see Alan Blinder. I started my personal lobbying campaign for Blinder on June 16. He is the only sensible choice.

Now it seems to be within the realm of possibility that Geithner and Bernanke are both in jeopardy.

President Obama, here is what you need to do.

It should be obvious to you by now that Geithner is incapable of instilling confidence. He may or may not be competent, but that is less important than having the ability to instill confidence.

Although I am no fan of Summers, I think most people would agree that he is a natural choice for Treasury Secretary. After all, the transition will be seamless since he is basically running things already from behind the scenes.

That leaves Alan Blinder for Fed Chairman.

Now, if you really wanted to salvage your presidency (you know your political capital is waning quickly and you will need it for your other programs), then you might also consider appointing Volcker to head the NEC.

This dream team would instill tremendous confidence and I would once again be optimistic about the future of our economy:

  • Secretary of the Treasury – Larry Summers
  • Chairman of the Federal Reserve – Alan Blinder
  • Director of the National Economic Council – Paul Volcker

This is a team that could carry us out of this crisis. It is not too late.

PS: Don’t let the recent jubilation fool you. As I told you before, the credit crisis is much larger than residential mortgages. Easy credit pervaded every aspect of the debt markets. We need to be prepared for the next round. The troubles have still only begun.

PPS: You might also kindly request that Greenspan shut up.

Letter to Obama: Losing Political Capital

Posted in Action, Barry Ritholtz, Bernanke, Geithner, Greenspan, Obama, Paulson, The Big Picture by Economic Darwinism on June 18, 2009

Dear President Obama,

I say this as a supporter and as someone who wishes you success as we face extreme challenges on many fronts. I work among conservative Republicans and actually had to sneak out of the office to watch your inauguration. It was a touching and historic moment I will never forget.

You are on the verge of losing whatever political capital you had coming into office due to your refusal to acknowledge that the people you are relying on for economic policy are the very people who are responsible for getting us into this situation. Greenspan, Bernanke, Paulson, and now Geithner (and Summers) all continue to fail to see the causes of the crisis. As a consquence, current proposed regulatory reform is bound to fail yet again.

At this point, the rapid loss of confidence in both Geithner and Bernanke are weakening your ability to push your agenda in other critical matters. You must do something to remove them both or you will  imperil your potential to accomplish lasting and necessary change.

Please listen to Barry Ritholtz*  and others such as Alan Blinder who actually understand what is happening. In particular, see Ritholtz’ article

Obama Reform Plan Fails to Fix Whats Broken

He enunciates six unacceptable weaknesses in your proposal:

1) No major changes for the ratings agencies!

2) Turn Derivatives into Ordinary Financial Products

3) If they are too big to fail, make them smaller.”

4) The Federal Reserve, Despite its Role in Causing the Crisis, Gets MORE Authority

5) Require leverage to be dialed back to its pre-2004 levels.

6) Restore Glass Steagall

All of which suggests that the status-quo-preserving, sacred-cow-loving, upward-failing duo of Lawrence Summers and Tim Geithner are still in control of economic policy. The more pragmatic David Axelrod and the take-no-prisoners, don’t-give-a-shit-about-Wall-Street Rahm Emmanuel have yet to assert authority over the finance sector.

All these should be considered uncompromising requirements of any regulatory reform. Anything less than these six items will have no positive effect and will likely lead to another crisis before the end of your first term.

You are running out of time.

*Author of Bailout Nation and the phenomenal blog The Big Picture.

Lobbying for Alan Blinder

Posted in Alan Blinder, Charlie Rose, Federal Reserve by Economic Darwinism on June 16, 2009

Yesterday, I started a personal campaign to nominate Alan Blinder to be the next Fed Chairman in the hopes that someone picks up the torch and carries it further than I can.

Today, a story appeared on Bloomberg confirming my fears:

Obama Praises Bernanke, Declines to Comment on Reappointment

Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary who heads Obama’s National Economic Council, has been mentioned as a possible successor should Bernanke not be re-nominated.

It would be a tragedy if that happens.

Speaking of a “voice of reason”, I stumbled onto a very good Charlie Rose segment from last week with Alan Blinder, Alan Auerbach, and David Leonhardt:

A conversation about the growing fiscal deficit

Alan Blinder would make a fantastic Fed Chairman.

A New Financial Foundation: Reaction

Posted in Action by Economic Darwinism on June 15, 2009

Today, we had the pleasure of a long article published in the Washington Post penned by no less than the dynamic duo: Geithner and Summers (listed in that order?).

A New Financial Foundation

Over the past two years, we have faced the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression. The financial system failed to perform its function as a reducer and distributor of risk. Instead, it magnified risks, precipitating an economic contraction that has hurt families and businesses around the world.

Oh, and by the way, we are both largely responsible for the ill-conceived deregulatory bank-friendly policies that got us into this mess.

We have taken extraordinary measures to help put America on a path to recovery.

Since everyone knows that the way out of a credit crisis is to artificially extend credit at irrationally cheap levels.

This current financial crisis had many causes.

The authors being two big ones.

It had its roots in the global imbalance in saving and consumption, in the widespread use of poorly understood financial instruments, in shortsightedness and excessive leverage at financial institutions. But it was also the product of basic failures in financial supervision and regulation.

But please don’t think we had anything to do with that.

In recent years, the pace of innovation in the financial sector has outstripped the pace of regulatory modernization, leaving entire markets and market participants largely unregulated.

Thanks to us.

First, existing regulation focuses on the safety and soundness of individual institutions but not the stability of the system as a whole.

This is actually a thinly veiled attempt to RELAX regulation. The idea is similar to that adopted by Basel II and new rules allowing margin requirement be set at the portfolio level rather than the individual security level. Diversification helps. So when you group things together, the apparent risk is decreased allowing for additional leverage. Nice try.

The administration’s plan will impose robust reporting requirements on the issuers of asset-backed securities; reduce investors’ and regulators’ reliance on credit-rating agencies; and, perhaps most significant, require the originator, sponsor or broker of a securitization to retain a financial interest in its performance.

I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but the guys at Goldman are smarter than you. They will find a way around this.

All derivatives contracts will be subject to regulation, all derivatives dealers subject to supervision, and regulators will be empowered to enforce rules against manipulation and abuse.

What is your definition of a “derivative”? Does a credit default swap count?

We will lead the effort to improve regulation and supervision around the world.

Can you hear those Chinese college students laughing again?

Like all financial crises, the current crisis is a crisis of confidence and trust.

As long as the two of you have any say at all in policy matters, I know I will not experience anything remotely like “confident and trust”.

Reassuring the American people that our financial system will be better controlled is critical to our economic recovery.

Can you hear the unemployed graduating American college students laughing this time?

By restoring the public’s trust in our financial system, the administration’s reforms will allow the financial system to play its most important function: transforming the earnings and savings of workers into the loans that help families buy homes and cars, help parents send kids to college, and help entrepreneurs build their businesses. Now is the time to act.

It is too bad that the only solution you are capable of seeing is easy credit. Easy credit is what got us into this mess. Easy credit will not get us out of it. I don’t know what is so complicated about that concept that you cannot get it into your head. This is America. We don’t need and we don’t want your easy credit. If we let the big banks fail, would the availability of credit disappear? No way. Give me a break. That is fear mongering on your part to scare policy makers into excessively banker friendly policies. No. If every big bank failed tomorrow, there would almost immediately spring up 100s or 1000s of small banks in their place. There is great money to be made these days in opening a bank IF you would let competition play its course. Currently, the playing field is unfairly stacked against the small banks. I am tempted to start a bank myself. That is, if I thought you weren’t unfairly propping up economic sink holes.

To get this country back on its feet, we need entrepreneurs not oligarchs.

The history books will not make light of your misguided policies. The sooner you are both out of the picture, the sooner we can get back on the road to recovery.