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The Emperor Has No Clothes

March 19, 2009 1 comment


What we are seeing right now are the kinds of last ditch efforts that reveal how truly inept and desperate our leaders are. First there is the AIG bonus fiasco, a case study in the bumbling incompetence of the representatives in charge of containing the financial fallout (ironically the very people that preempted it). Then there is the move to quantitative easing — a seemingly sophisticated way of getting around the fact that the state is effectively socializing the government debt market and literally printing a trillion dollars out of thin air (as is the government’s wont). The implications of these two bamboozles are very telling.

In the case of AIG, first let me go on record as saying that AIG was a poorly run company that strayed from its business of insuring, and became a large hedge fund. When times were good, the illusory value created for shareholders in churning out CDS contracts and getting involved with all sorts of other derivatives made it seem as if this company was rock solid. But once the laws of economics came into play as we have seen time and time again, the straw men were revealed; malinvestments were proved to be malinvestments.

As such, the fact that anybody in this company who was responsible for running it into the ground should receive any bonus money is appalling. Adding insult to injury however, once they made the deal with the devil and accepted a government bailout (really a bailout of their counterparties who would have been decimated were AIG to have gone under as they should have), the situation has turned into a political and ethical hellstorm for the American public. Taxpayers paying bonuses for employees that destroyed the company the taxpayers are backstopping; politicians who conveniently forgot that their bailout legislation insured that these bonuses would be paid, only to turn around now and work to pass bills to tax bonuses at 90%.

First, contracts should be honored, and if a company wants to pay inane amounts for failure, then so be it; BUT that company should be allowed to fail for its disastrous business practices. Further, on principle, I am against this knee-jerk reaction to kill the greedy businessmen. On the other hand, the fact that we are all paying for private incompetence is an outrage. Again, we wouldn’t be talking about this if we had allowed the company to go belly up. Be outraged at the government for bailing AIG out, not AIG for being a garbage company.

Just think about the little game the politicians are playing — nationalize a failed company with taxpayer money, then tax bonuses to get taxpayers’ money back. Seems a bit screwy doesn’t it? Our dollars are sloshing around in all different directions. As you can see from this mess, the government isn’t exactly the most competent or honest steward. They are also capitalizing on the populist backlash against “corporate greed” to cover their own blunders for a measly $165 million, chump change compared to all the cash they have thrown around. Even if you hate Wall Street, when it comes to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd versus guys like Martin Sullivan and Angelo Mozilo (call him a derivative of his Wall Street brethren), it seems like a push to me. Then again, Mozilo was gracious enough to help Dodd get a good mortgage. Advantage incompetent/corrupt businessmen.

As I mentioned, the reason we keep dropping truckloads of money into AIG is because of AIG’s counterparties. This is the real game being played. For all of the populist backlash against the banks by politicians, Wall Street has been a part of Washington since the days of Alexander Hamilton. The whole financial system has been socialized since 1913. The Federal Reserve is the government’s bank that controls the fate of all of the other banks on the street. I don’t even know if I would really call its conduits private institutions because their policies are to a large extent determined by their lender, the Fed. But of course, the Fed is a private bank based on its charter too.

All in all through my incoherent rambling, what I am trying to get across is that we are witnessing the crack-up of this system, and the quantitative easing measures to buy a trillion dollars in treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to bring down yields on all sorts of debt (and also to effectively screw my double-inverse short position in long treasuries temporarily, boy that’s a mouthful) reflect the utter panic at the prospect of the socialized financial system going under.

Basically, the government needs to keep yields low to service its own debt and to bail out other debtors, such as for example most Americans. Foreign countries no longer want to purchase more treasuries given the massive supply and the lack of yield (due to the previous flight to the “safety” of our nation’s debt). So after the Treasury creates all this debt to finance the deficits that we’ll never be able to pay back, the Federal Reserve comes in and buys the treasuries, effectively pumping in a trillion bones or clams or whatever you call them to the market. It is the highest stakes shell game ever played. And also the most dangerous.

Since all the government can do at this point besides letting the chips fall and the system collapse (which will happen anyway in this author’s humble opinion) is to inflate (in fact that’s all the Fed does anyway), they are inflating like crazy. They have never lost the battle to falling prices before, and I don’t see them losing the battle this time given the pertinacity of the Depression scholar, the eminent Mr. Bernanke. He will probably get his rising prices sooner or later. Markets certainly think so given the massive run-up in gold, oil and decline in the dollar relative to other currencies. And of course when inflation does hit, the yields on government debt will have to rise anyway. I wonder if Bernanke and Co. thought that through?


But more fundamental than all of this is just the sheer desperation that these actions show: government officials going in ad hoc to side-step contracts by taxing at 90% those receiving TARP money over 250K…or something like that, the minutiae pales in comparison to the principle; government officials going into the debt market and buying treasuries it creates with another one of its entities (flooding the world with dollars) since nobody else wants to hold our junk bonds as we are totally insolvent as a nation to begin with. And then just look at the simply embarrassing, amateur actions of the Obama administration: going after Rush Limbaugh and Jim Cramer (a pretty socialistic guy himself)…giving Gordon Brown a set of DVDs during his visit to the US…attacking the very businessmen who are the only ones that are going to be able to help our economy rebuild…focusing on NCAA picks, Twittering, Facebooking and Lenoing instead of doing his job. What exactly is President Obama thinking?

Americans really need to understand the dire nature of the situation. These guys (and gals) in power on the whole are simply second-rate actors. They are in Washington for self-interested reasons, not with the longterm well-being of their constituents at heart. Companies lobby (basically bribing) politicians to get ahead through patents, monopolies, regulations and other ways to insure that they can win because of a playing field that is not level. The politicians are more than happy to oblige because they will be rewarded upon leaving office with lavish jobs or other support from their business friends. So long as the nation doesn’t implode in their faces, or if it does, so long as they can deflect their failures on others and act sympathetic, they can stay in power forever (see Barney Frank). It is all one big joke. The sooner we accept that these people are not to be taken seriously — that they are a bunch of crooks and frauds who work in the public sector to gain advantages because they couldn’t make it in private life, the sooner we can get the government off our back and out of our lives.

When I imagine the founding father’s thinking about who they wanted to represent the people, I see a group of largely retired folk who had been fairly successful in life and thus had no reason to govern to benefit themselves; they were to serve as competent and honest stewards and largely maintain the status quo (i.e. the Constitution) because they felt it was their duty and valued the sacrifices made to build a country guided by the rule of law and the belief in preserving the life, liberty and property of the people. The government was never intended to be the intrusive, insolvent ignoramous of an institution that it is today. America, wake up and take this country back from these pathetic excuses for representatives!

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