Update 1 on the below over at Atlas Shrugs replete with the below presentation:
Pamela over at Atlas Shrugs has been doing an exceptional job exposing the Jihad bailout of AIG. To go along with being a terrible hedge fund manager in AIGFP, it just so happens that “AIG was (and still is) the world leader in promoting Shariah-compliant insurance products.” The problem? As noted in the press release on attorney David Yerushalmi’s site, “By propping up AIG with tax payer funds, the U.S. government is directly and indirectly promoting Islam and, more troubling, Shariah.” The crux of the court case is below:
David Yerushalmi, who is co-counsel with Robert Muise, laid out the grounds for the motion:
At the time of the takeover decision, Secretary Geithner was the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and he was the leading advocate of the AIG takeover. Moreover, he designed how the U.S. government would not only bail out AIG with taxpayer dollars, but how the government would illegally take control of 80% of the voting shares through what was patently an illegal and invalid trust arrangement. It is apparent from the discovery we’ve conducted to date that this was done purposefully and with an intent to conceal the illegal takeover with a fraudulent trust.
Attorneys Yerushalmi and Muise want to ask Secretary Geithner:
· Why he forced AIG to take on so much debt that AIG’s credit rating, already in peril, was sure to collapse without yet additional government funds, essentially guaranteeing AIG would remain a ward of the state?
· Why he imposed such Draconian terms on AIG that there was no way it could survive without additional billions from U.S. taxpayers?
· Why he then used AIG to secretly funnel 100% payoffs to AIG’s counterparties, including his colleagues and friends at Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and the European giant, Société Générale. In other words, why did Geithner decide to destroy AIG’s chances of survival as a private entity while surreptitiously saving and preserving private ownership of other domestic and foreign financial companies? And,
· Why he took control of 80% of AIG’s voting shares without legal authority to do so and used a fraudulent trust arrangement to conceal the illegal takeover?
For more on the matter check out (via Big Government) this transcript from 2008 in which Yerushalmi gives a detailed explanation on the problems regarding taxpayer dollars and Shariah and this interview from yesterday between Frank Gaffney and Yerushalmi on this landmark case of Murray v. Geithner.
On Shariah, Yerushalmi’s moral if not legal argument is well taken:
FrontPage Mag: Why do we care if AIG is offering a Muslim-friendly insurance product as just another way to make money even if the USG is now a shareholder? Doesn’t the USG invest in other companies that might offer religious consumers unique products? For example, what if the USG invests federal employee pension plan funds in a company that publishes books, including a line of religious books?
Yerushalmi: We should care a great deal. First, when the USG invests federal employee pension plans it is acting as an employer, not a government agency per se. In fact, the investment has nothing to do with the government’s tax and spending authority. Second, the investment in such plans is generally through an intermediary investment fund which in turn only invests passively and through minority holdings. In this case, we have the USG acting not as an employer but expressly through its tax and spending authority and taking an absolute controlling position. AIG is in effect nationalized. It is a government company.
But, beyond these strictly legal arguments, there is an overarching concern. Can it really be the case that we want the USG involved in a theologically based legal doctrine that calls for our conversion, subjugation or murder? Have we abdicated even the rudiments of good sense in the name of a PC-driven, non-judgmental multi-culturalism? If we have, we have abdicated our very right to exist as a nation.
First let me state a few qualifiers when it comes to the Mets’ now infamous Citi Field. Citi Field is gorgeous. The team that will inhabit it is not as gorgeous. It is outrageous that the taxpayers are backstopping the bank which made the naming deal with the team. It is embarrassing to an organization that has already suffered epic collapses the last two seasons to be going into a new stadium dealing with this kind of headache. With this in mind, let me proceed to the broader controversy regarding the naming deal.
Today in the New York Times, representative Dennis Kucinich argues regarding naming deals that “Treasury has the power under TARP to make broad changes, They have to. It’s not whether they can or should; they have to. The legal issues are very easy to maneuver.” According to Kucinich, Citi Field represents “an egregious example. But we have a list of other banks we’re working our way through. We’ll hold hearings.” I do agree with Kucinich that naming deals such as Citi’s with the Mets represent extravagent, and probably poor expenditures. I don’t know how Citi projected that it would recoup their $400 million investment in the naming rights to the stadium, but investment banks made all sorts of investments far more ridiculous over the last decade to be sure.
Further, given that taxpayers are the ones who are responsible for propping up the company responsible for this deal, it should anger all of us. But what Congress (Mr. Kucinich excluded given his populist rhetoric against the bank bailouts) fails to realize is that were it not for the government’s decision to bail out these institutions, these types of issues would not exist. As Citi unwound its assets during its bankruptcy, the naming rights deal could be nixed and purchased by another company. Where were Kucinich’s angry colleagues when it came to bailing out Citi in the first place?
The outrage amongst politicians when it comes to naming deals not only masks their lack of appreciation that this would not be an issue were it not for propping up failing ventures, but also masks the greater implications of their intervention. Since we all are now shareholders in these institutions, the government will tinker with their management. This begins with caps on executive pay, but who is to say that it will end there?
As poorly as some of these institutions were managed, and granting that a lot of their poor management was due to incentives created by government intervention, I would guarantee that government control of the banks will be even worse. Do you think that Nancy Pelosi knows how to create a DCF model in Excel? Does Barney Frank know how the market for CDO^2’s works, let alone what a CDO^2 is?
Much as I think that President Obama could give a hell of a pitch to investors on the virtues of a closed-end real estate fund, there is no way that the government can ever run these businesses properly. Command economies have always failed. The government lacks the profit motive and the knowledge to successfully manage these companies. Putting the firms under the purview of government represents the greatest moral hazard of them all.
Remember, these are only the direct effects of strict government regulation of the banking sector. There would also be a great effect on the markets. If the government is to have say over the operating activities of the major banks, what kind of implications will this have for retail and institutional investors? Will money flood out to less-regulated private equity and hedge funds? Will those shops then become as regulated as the (remaining) big banks? What kind of confidence will exist in the markets when the biggest broker-dealers are being managed by politicians? Will people not recall what happened to all of the other GSE’s?
There are a plethora of problems with these institutions being managed by the government. The Citi Field naming rights deal is very small relative to the big picture, but it exemplifies the direction the government is going. I am just as angry as everyone else that we are responsible for keeping the Citi naming deal alive, but we must remember that it was because of government intervention that we got ourselves into this mess in the first place. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Mets aren’t going to pursue Manny Ramirez, now us tortured fans have to deal with this pathetic situation.
As the recession has deepened, many of our economists (namely Krugman, Summers and the like) and elected officials have continuously argued that given the current dire circumstances, the only way to get the economy going is for the government to create demand by spending. The logic is that in a recession, the problem is that we have underconsumption; the magic pill for increasing consumption is government spending, generally in the form of public works projects. If resources like laborers are sitting on the sidelines (having been laid off), why not employ them in jobs building tangible public goods, enabling them to earn a living? Then, the government-spending multiplier will kick in, and the economy will grow again.
Robert Murphy in his refreshingly simple but thorough manner goes about picking apart the Keynesian argument in a recent Mises article. Murphy neatly sums up the Krugmanite point that “putting unemployed resources to work can only help, since prodding workers into producing even items of dubious value is better than letting them sit around watching Let’s Make a Deal.” He cites blogger Mark Thoma’s drawn-out explanation of the logic here. In debunking the Keynesian “idle resources” thesis, Murphy notes,
Even on its own terms, Thoma’s scenario fails because it is unrealistic. It is absurd to think that the government could come up with spending programs that would draw only on unemployed resources. Keynesian “macro” thinking ignores the complex capital structure of an economy. To build a bridge (as in Thoma’s example) requires a lot more than cranes and generic laborers. For example, gasoline will be burned in order to transport the newly employed workers to and from the work site. Nails, screws, steel, lumber, and other resources will be channeled into the new bridge, and at least some of these inputs will be diverted away from other private-sector uses, rather than simply leaving a state of idleness. Within the broad category of “labor” we find a similar situation, once we actually contemplate doing this project for real. If the city of Houston wants to build a new bridge, is it really the case that every last person even remotely involved with the project, will come from the ranks of the unemployed who are within commuting distance of the Houston bridge site? Surely the project will draw on engineers, construction foremen, and other skilled workers, who were still gainfully employed even amidst the recession, and who therefore will not be able to work on as many private-sector projects as they otherwise would have.
This issue is essential to understanding the way that the economy works. As I have mentioned before, no bureaucrat can ever plan for productive economic activity because he lacks the specialized knowledge, the ability to coordinate the activities and the profit motive of the business people who provide goods and services. He does not understand the capital structure of the economy. In the end, his central planning as always will fail.
As Murphy notes however, the Krugman’s of the world admit that during downturns, government spending is not about generating efficient economic activity, but rather acting on the assumption
that normal rules don’t apply. Ordinarily we’d welcome an increase in private saving; right now we’re living in a world subject to the “paradox of thrift,” in which private virtue is public vice. Normally we want to be careful that public funds are spent wisely; right now the crucial thing is that they be spent fast. (John Maynard Keynes once suggested burying bottles of cash in coal mines and letting the private sector dig them up — not as a real proposal, but as a way of emphasizing the priority of supporting demand.) [Emphasis added]
I just cannot understand this logic that when things get bad, somehow the laws of economic do not apply anymore. If the government can be so productive in using resources when times are bad, why not use resources when times are good as well? Can a country not prosper without a government boost? As we have seen, this is patently false given the success of all of the nations that have shed the yoke of socialism. Just look at Eastern Europe. In addition, if we as individuals were in financial trouble, would we spend money fast, or be careful in how we spent our funds, if we spent them at all? The same logic that applies to a man applies to the nation. During rough economic times, we need to ENCOURAGE SAVINGS, CUT SPENDING AND LOWER ALL BARRIERS TO POSITIVE ECONOMIC ACTIVITY (NAMELY TAXES). This will pave the way for real economic growth when the market corrects.
Murphy goes on to explain to the recalcitrant Keynesians that it is important to remember how we got into this situation, if we are to figure out the best way out of it. As Murphy puts it, following the low-interest-rate-fuelled boom, which created a mirage of wealth-generating activities ending in bust,
Once people in the private sector realized they had made horrible decisions during the boom years, they needed to stop business as usual and figure out how to make the best of a bad situation. Homeowners who had skimped on their savings for years (relying on booming house prices) had to slash spending to compensate for years of overconsumption, while entrepreneurs needed to decide which activities were likely to be profitable going forward, in light of the new information.
What had to happen is that workers and other resources that had been misallocated into housing construction and Wall Street investment banks, needed to be moved into other sectors. To repeat, this was and is a fantastically complex reshuffling, because even something as simple as producing a pencil requires the contributions of thousands of workers all over the world.
It’s not a simple matter of moving unemployed builders and hedge-fund managers into “booming” sectors X, Y, and Z, because (as we’ve seen above) these newly employed workers will require complementary tools and resources that were not laid off to the same extent. So the issue is, what is the best new outlet for all of these laid-off workers, such that — all things considered — the final mix of output goods best satisfies consumer desires? How can we be sure that channeling them into occupation X won’t actually do more harm than good?
This Austrian analysis of the problem shows that there was a major misallocation of resources that need to be channeled into productive sectors. However, the government is not the best authority to determine how to do this. According to Murphy,
In practice, the people in a market economy solve this fantastically complex problem by making profit-and-loss calculations, which in turn rely on market prices. For example, it is clear that a former Wall Street quant isn’t doing anybody a service by cranking out models that give mortgage-backed securities a gold star for safety. But what should this PhD do now? Should he go into academia and teach thermodynamics (which may very well have been the subject of his dissertation)? Or is his impressive education really a complete waste, and he would — at this point, given the economic realities — provide the most service by working the register at Wal-Mart?
Nobody knows the answer to this question. What happens during the recovery process is that the unemployed whiz kid initially looks for a job paying his former salary. As the months pass, he realizes that this is unrealistic, and he begins lowering his minimum price. Eventually, he finds an employer with compatible desires, and the two agree to a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Imagine that, letting the markets sort out the problems brought about by the government-created boom-and-bust cycle. Murphy notes that the Keynesians are wrong to assume that it is simply an issue of scared consumers causing the economy to contract. He argues:
On the contrary, the economy’s capital structure really was thrown into an unsustainable condition during the boom years, and it takes time for the mess to be sorted out. When the government runs up a deficit to fund “stimulus” projects, all that really means is that it is forcing taxpayers to pay for projects that they wouldn’t buy with their own money.
This is an aspect of the stimulus that really makes my blood boil. If it isn’t bad enough that the government is going to use precious resources inefficiently, and prolong the market-based recovery needed to start real economic growth again, the taxpayers funding these projects also don’t have really any say in them. Sure, we can vote out our elected officials. But as we have seen with all of the bailouts and the TARP money, even when sizable amounts of the populace have opposed government policies, we have not been able to stop them. It is immoral that the politicians can determine how best to use our hard-earned cash, and how much to burden our future generations with debt for these false stimuli. Let’s hope that we can not only vote out the bums during the midterm elections, but supplant them with people that have a sound understanding of economics and the Constitution.
Today in the WSJ, the editorial board has a nice little piece on our favorite siblings, Fannie and Freddie. Apparently, Henry Waxman and the other esteemed gentlemen and women are having a horse and pony show in Washington to absolve themselves from the meltdown of these two government behemoths.
There are a few things that strike me as ridiculous about the whole Fannie and Freddie concept to begin with. First, what exactly is the motive of a government-sponsored enterprise? A government initiative is supposed to promote the “public good,” something that has obviously been totally distorted. But anyway, say the government makes the excuse that providing “affordable” housing for lower-income people is a public good (though of course, apples to oranges the bad from these companies has clearly outdone the good). What about the enterprise part of the equation? Generally an enterprise is in the business of maximizing profits by providing a service that the market demands. Now, I would certainly argue that private enterprises serve the public good because they give the public what they want at a competitive price and create jobs. However, to ask a government sponsored enterprise (of that efficient government we have in Washington) to serve the dual mandate of both providing a public good and seeking to maximize profit seems like somewhat of an impossible balancing act.
As the journal notes,
Memos and emails at the highest levels of Fannie and Freddie management in 2004 and 2005 paint a picture of two companies that saw their market share eroded by such products as option-ARMs and interest-only mortgages. The two companies were prepared to walk ever further out on the risk curve to maintain their market position. The companies understood the risks they were running. But squeezed between the need to meet affordable-housing goals set by HUD and the desire to sustain their growth and profits, they took the leap anyway.
That is a pretty good reflection of the problem with these companies. They were trying to balance out achieving market share (in reality crowding out true free market competition if there were other people willing to take the risk to provide “affordable” housing to people that probably couldn’t really afford the housing in the first place) with helping people live in houses that again, most probably could not afford. Wasn’t there a time where if you struggled to pay for a house, you simply rented? Not in America I guess.
Anyway, besides these fundamental problems, these companies received the management quality that the taxpayers deserve from their quasi-owned enterprise:
In early 2004, Freddie’s executive team was engaged in a heated debate over whether to start acquiring “stated income, stated assets” mortgages. And in April of that year, David Andrukonis, the head of risk management, wrote to his colleagues, “This is not an affordable product, as I understand it, but a product necessary to recapture [market] share. . . . In 1990 we called this product ‘dangerous’ and eliminated it from the marketplace.” Freddie went ahead anyway.
One Fannie Mae document from March 2005 notes dryly, “Although we invest almost exclusively in AAA-rated securities, there is a concern that the rating agencies may not be properly assessing the risk in these securities.” But they bought them anyway, both to maintain their market share and to show people like Democrat Barney Frank that they were promoting affordable housing.
By April 2008, according to a document prepared for then-Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd and marked “Confidential — Highly Restricted,” Fannie’s $312 billion in Alt-A mortgages represented “12% of single-family credit exposure.” This book of business, the document notes, “was originated to maintain relevance in market with customers — main originators were Countrywide, Lehman, Indymac, Washington Mutual, Amtrust.”
Oh yea, and the CEO of Freddie Mac also had the audacity to state that, “It is remarkable that during the period that Fannie Mae substantially increased its exposure to credit risk its regulator made no visible effort to enforce any limits.” So even though it was his people that mismanaged the company, it was the government regulators fault for not ensuring that the company was taking prudent risk? Imagine if any of the CEOs of the Investment Banks blamed the regulators for the financial crisis? No real enterprise could ever make this argument.
Of course Franky Raines also had a point. “What Mr. Raines failed to mention was that, all along, Fannie and Freddie were spending millions on lobbying to ensure that regulators did not get in their way. As the AP reported Sunday night, Freddie spent $11.7 million in lobbying in 2006 alone…” This is another fundamental problem with these businesses. The politicians supported affordable housing for low income people because it would help their constituents. To me, it seems like a big slush fund to get votes. Personally, if I knew the government was going to redistribute our tax money to subsidize a housing market for low income people, I’d rather them just buy the houses outright. That way we would at least see where the money was going.
The fact of the matter however is that the government does not see or care for the unintended consequences of maintaining a quasi-governmental enterprise to do this. Shouldn’t it tell them something if the market never dictated that their be real competitors for Fannie and Freddie? Ah well, Barney Frank and Co. can always blame it on greedy corporate America and the wild excesses of the free market.