Posts tagged ‘Bailout / Financial Crisis’


| Peter Klein |

All this talk about bad loans reminds me of the famous “workout” scene from Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full, better known as the “saddlebags” scene. It must be the most brilliant, accurate, and entertaining account of a bank calling a loan ever written. You can read most of the scene (from chapter 2) here; if you haven’t read it before, you’re in for a treat. (Unfortunately the excerpt ends before the climax of the scene in which Harry Zales, the bank’s workout specialist, ends his speech that reduces the hapless borrower, Atlanta real-estate mogul Charlie Croker, to a nervous, sweating wretch with his arm raised triumphantly, middle finger pointed to the skies.)

If that scene were to be written today, however, the ending would be different. Just before the workout is over the heroic central banker or Treasury secretary would bound into the room, explaining that the bank should restructure Croker’s loan after all (in the story, Croker has defaulted on a $515 million loan — a mere trifle), and that he will write the bank a check on the spot to cover Croker’s obligation. Gotta maintain adequate liquidity in the system, after all! Upon leaving the room, the central banker or Treasury secretary also extends his middle finger — this time in the direction of the taxpayer.

15 October 2008 at 12:13 am Leave a comment

No Analysis, No Data

| Peter Klein |

Earlier I complained that public discussions of the current financial situation are largely devoid of analysis. A recent example: virtually no one has explained why the commercial-paper market is “frozen.” We’re told that even firms with good commercial prospects can’t turn over their short-term notes, leaving them desperately short on working capital. In other words, there is real economic value to be created by extending short-term credit to these firms, but no one is willing to lend. $20 bills on the sidewalk, indeed! Presumably there is some kind of Stiglitz and Weiss (1981) story underlying these claims — banks cannot distinguish good from bad borrowers, so they refuse to lend to anyone — but nobody has bothered to spell it out, or to explain how indiscriminate Fed purchases of commercial paper solves the problem. Ah, well, perhaps to ask for analysis makes one a stuffy and unrealistic fundamentalist.

Bob Higgs notes that not only is the analysis largely absent, the data are wildly inconsistent with the kinds of claims being made.

The Federal Reserve System publishes comprehensive data on commercial paper issuance, commercial paper outstanding, and interest rates on commercial paper. I presume that these data give us a clearer picture of what’s going on in the markets than a covey of hyperventilating Wall Street commentators. (more…)

9 October 2008 at 4:22 pm 5 comments

Revenge of the Aggregates

| Peter Klein |

I first studied macroeconomics back in the dark days before the microfoundations revolution had filtered down into the undergraduate curriculum. We learned Y = C + I + G and that was about it. Fluctuations in aggregate demand cause fluctuations in aggregate output, Hayek be damned. Relative price changes — between markets at the same place in the time-structure of production, or between higher- and lower-order sectors — were completely ignored.

Supposedly mainstream macroeconomics has moved beyond this crude level of aggregation. But you’d never know if from the discussions of the last few weeks. “Banks” aren’t “lending” enough. “Businesses” and “consumers” can’t get “loans.” “Firms” have too many “bad assets” on their books. The key question, though, is which ones? Which banks aren’t lending to which customers? Which firms have made poor investments? Newsflash: a loan isn’t a loan isn’t a loan. I hate to break it to the Chattering Class, but not every borrower should get a loan. The relevant question, in analyzing the current mess, is which loans aren’t being made, to whom, and why? The critical issues revolve around the composition of lending, not the aggregate amount. Focusing on total lending, total liquidity, average equity prices, and the like merely obscures the key questions about how resources are being allocated across sectors, firms, and individuals, whether bad investments are being liquidated, and so on. (more…)

7 October 2008 at 2:59 pm 2 comments

More Bailout Humor

| Peter Klein |

In dark times, sometimes all you can do is laugh.

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3 October 2008 at 9:09 am 8 comments

Strange Bedfellows

| Peter Klein |

One of the interesting aspects of this week’s House vote on the Paulson plan was the coalitions it generated. The Treasury Secretary, the Fed Chair, and leaders of both the Democratic and Republican sides stood hand-in-hand to urge lawmakers to support the bailout. Conservative Republican and liberal Democratic members joined forces to defeat it. What gives? Larry White points to ideology: “Republicans who voted no didn’t like the fact that $700 billion would be taken from taxpayers. . . . Democrats who voted no didn’t like the fact that it would be going to Wall Street.” Maybe, but I prefer Gordon Smith’s suggestion:

Anthony Ha uses the data at (a website dedicated to “illuminating the connection” between money and politics) to tell another familiar political story. Looking at this page, Anthony observes:

Overall, bailout supporters received an average of 54 percent more in campaign contributions from banks and securities than bailout opponents over the last five years. The disparity also held true if you look at individual parties. In fact, the 140 Democrats who voted for the bailout received almost twice as much money from banks and securities as the 95 Democrats who voted against it. (The difference was closer to 50 percent for Republicans.)

Does anybody have data that would permit some quick-and-dirty analysis, say a logistic regression of the House votes as a function of legislator and district characteristics, contributions from the commercial and investment banking industries, and other interest-group variables?

2 October 2008 at 2:09 pm 1 comment

Karl’s Revenge

| Peter Klein |

I closed my first post on the bailout mess with “Capitalism, requiescat in pace.” Here’s Martin Masse with the details. (Thanks to Mark Thornton.)

1 October 2008 at 9:49 am Leave a comment

Paulson, Bernanke, Congress: We Need Your Help!

| Peter Klein |

With our economy in crisis, the US Government is scrambling to rescue our banks by purchasing their “distressed assets”, i.e., assets that no one else wants to buy from them. We figured that instead of protesting this plan, we’d give regular Americans the same opportunity to sell their bad assets to the government. We need your help and you need the Government’s help!

Use the form below to submit bad assets you’d like the government to take off your hands. And remember, when estimating the value of your 1997 limited edition Hanson single CD “MMMbop”, it’s not what you can sell these items for that matters, it’s what you think they are worth. The fact that you think they are worth more than anyone will buy them for is what makes them bad assets.

Here’s the link (via Sean Corrigan, and please excuse the language). Remember, if people can’t get rid of their bad assets, they will have to cut back their spending, hurting local businesses, which will then be unable to spend, hurting other businesses, and so on, generating a “consumption crunch” that will cause the next Great Depression. Please, somebody, break some windows!

30 September 2008 at 11:26 am 1 comment

Nationalization of US Credit Markets: Where Is the Analysis?

| Peter Klein |

Over and over during the last week we’ve been told that unless Congress, the Treasury, and the Fed take “bold action,” credit markets will freeze, equity values will plummet, small businesses and homeowners will be wiped out, and, ultimately, the entire economy will crash. Such pronouncements are issued boldly, with a sort of Gnostic certainty, a little sadness for dramatic effect, and only minor caveats and qualifications.

And yet, details are never provided. The analysis is conducted entirely at a superficial, almost literary, level. “If the government doesn’t act then banks will be afraid to lend, and people can’t get credit to buy a house or expand their business, and the economy will tank.” Unless we rescue these particular financial institution, in other words, a massive contagion effect will swamp the entire economy. But how do we know this? We don’t. First, we don’t even know if there is a “credit crunch.” Nobody has bothered to provide any empirical evidence. Second, even if credit markets are tight, does it matter? Any predictions about the long-term effects are, of course, purely speculative. Sure, borrowers like cheap and easy credit and tighter credit markets will leave some borrowers worse off. But what are the magnitudes? What are the likely effects on the economy as a whole? (Possibly zero.) What are the possible scenarios, what is the likelihood of each, and how large are the expected effects? Where is the cost-benefit analysis? After all, the seizure of Fannie and Freddie, the takeovers of AIG and WaMu, the modified Paulson plan — the effective nationalization of the US financial sector, in other words — ain’t exactly costless. There are direct costs, of course, to be borne by taxpayers, but the possible long-term effects brought about by increased moral hazard, regime and policy uncertainty, and the like are enormous. Even on purely utilitarian grounds, the arguments offered so far are tissue-paper thin. 

Perhaps the dopiest remark I heard today was from Jamie Galbraith on the Diane Rehm show. “I’m a risk-averse person, and the risk of doing nothing is too great.” Huh? Um, shouldn’t a risk-averse person compare the risk of doing nothing with, well, the risk of doing something? Jamie, are the provisions of the bill making its way through Congress this morning risk free?

29 September 2008 at 11:11 am 4 comments

Mankiw: Defer to the Philosopher-Kings

| Peter Klein |

One of the most disappointing economist responses to the proposed bailout is Greg Mankiw’s. While not exactly endorsing the Paulson-Bernanke plan itself, Greg supports the process through which it emerged. His argument, essentially, is this: Paulson and Bernanke are very smart and have access to better information than the rest of us, so we should stop complaining and go along with whatever they propose.

I find this stunningly naive, for four reasons:

1. It ignores differences in theoretical frameworks or models. No doubt Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Oskar Lange, Paul Samuelson, and Joseph Stiglitz were or are highly intelligent people. Do we have to accept all their policy conclusions? Surely intelligent specialists can come to different conclusions not only because they have access to different information (the Friedmanite view), but because they have different understandings of how the world works. (This is especially true when long-run, rule-utilitarian consequences are at stake.)

2. It ignores the distinction between theoretical and applied economics. Even if people agree on theoretical questions, they may disagree on the application of theory to specific historical situations, which is a matter of judgment, not intelligence.

3. It ignores private interests. Paulson and Bernanke are not disinterested, Platonic philosopher-kings pursing the common good. Presumably they are pursuing private interests, just like every other political actor. Has Greg never heard of public choice?

4. It ignores concerns other than economic efficiency. Economists, like everyone else, have normative opinions. Some may oppose the bailout not on utilitarian grounds, but because they think giving taxpayer dollars to failing enterprises is immoral, regardless of  possible contagion effects.

27 September 2008 at 7:57 am 6 comments

A New Hope

| Peter Klein |

Finally, encouraging signs of resistance to the Paulson-Bernanke Corporate Welfare Act of 2008. Naturally, the commentators at our favorite sites at our favorite sites listed in the “Links” section below and to the right have been been against the bailouts from the beginning, but now mainstream scholars and analysts are getting into the act. I don’t mean complaints from members of Congress or The Candidates that the recent and proposed bailouts don’t go far enough (e.g., homeowners should get bailed out too) or that the Paulson-Bernanke proposal doesn’t include enough new regulations. Rather, I’m talking about sensible analysis by prominent, mainstream economists and other experts explaining that a market economy in which profits are private while losses are socialized is, well, not a market economy at all but a socialist or corporate-fascist state. See, for example, statements by Luigi Zingales, John Cochrane, and Richard Epstein, among others. Maybe the Empire can be defeated after all. (Apologies to Seth MacFarlane for modding his image.)

Update: Casey Mulligan is also quite good.

24 September 2008 at 4:59 pm 3 comments

Request for Urgent Confidential Business Relationship

| Peter Klein |

Perhaps you found this in your inbox today. But, really, is it any sillier than the real thing?

From: Minister of the Treasury Paulson

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Of course, the word “deregulation” above should be “change in regulation.”

See also: All Your Banks Are Belong to US (via Anthony).

23 September 2008 at 3:20 pm 1 comment

What Would Hayek Say?

| Peter Klein |

About the events of the last week? Probably the same thing he said in 1932:

Instead of furthering the inevitable liquidation of the maladjustments brought about by the boom during the last three years, all conceivable means have been used to prevent that readjustment from taking place; and one of these means, which has been repeatedly tried though without success, from the earliest to the most recent stages of depression, has been this deliberate policy of credit expansion. . . . To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about; because we are suffering from a misdirection of production, we want to create further misdirection — a procedure that can only lead to a much more severe crisis as soon as the credit expansion comes to an end. . . . It is probably to this experiment, together with the attempts to prevent liquidation once the crisis had come, that we owe the exceptional severity and duration of the depression.We must not forget that, for the last six or eight years, monetary policy all over the world has followed the advice of the stabilizers. It is high time that their influence, which has already done harm enough, should be overthrown.

That’s from the introduction to Monetary Nationalism and International Stability, included in the new collection we mentioned earlier. Thanks to Jeff Tucker for the tip and links to the source material.

21 September 2008 at 9:49 pm 20 comments

Latest Policy Statements from Washington

| Peter Klein |

Via Sean Corrigan:


Naturally I’m doing my best to ignore the equally inane remarks of The Presidential Candidates. I’m reminded of the great title of Mises’s 1948 essay on Keynes, “Stones into Bread: The Keynesian Miracle.” Oy vey.

19 September 2008 at 11:15 am 1 comment

The Financial Crisis

| Peter Klein |

A regular reader asks why we haven’t written much on the US financial crisis. What, he asks, do organizational economics, strategic management, Austrian economics, entrepreneurship theory, and the new institutional economics say about the events of recent weeks?

I can’t speak for Nicolai, Dick, and Lasse, but I personally have avoided talking about it because, well, I’m too depressed — not so much about the crisis itself, which I view as a necessary corrective to two decades of potentially ruinous malinvestment, but about the political reaction to it. I agree with Larry White that the general level of discourse not just among laypeople but also among the political and financial elites, top journalists, and academics, has been shockingly vapid and vacuous, even by the usual standards. Listening to government officials, pundits, and analysts analyzing the crisis is like listening to my son’s first-grade class discussing the finer points of postmodern French literature. It was too much deregulation! (Huh?) The free market broke down yet again, just like in the 1930s! Market failure! Thank goodness the government is “stepping in”! Excuse me while I blow my groceries.

My view, in brief, is that the current crisis is the predictable result of a massive credit bubble that began under Greenspan in the 1990s and spilled over into the housing market, following the general outlines of the boom-bust cycle described by the Austrians, along with moral hazard encouraged by the financial “safety net” and the implicit (and, increasingly explicit) guarantees of the “too-big-to-fail” mentality. Of course, the US government’s reaction — spending taxpayer money like candy to bail out favored groups and institutions — can only exacerbate the problem. You can do your own Googling like this or this to find informed commentary. I have little to add but will highlight a few favorite comments: (more…)

17 September 2008 at 10:20 am 5 comments

Moral Hazard, For Real

| Peter Klein |

I suppose I posted a whimsical item about moral hazard because I was too angry to write anything about the Financial Irresponsiblity Bailout and Reward Act of 2008, the moral-hazard story of the decade. Buy more house than you can afford? Sign a mortgage contract you can’t understand? Invest in risky mortgage-backed securities that lose money? Run your financial institution into the ground? Don’t worry, the hapless US taxpayer will pick up the tab!

I have nothing but contempt in my heart for all who asked for, drafted, and voted for this odious piece of legislation. If there were any doubt that the US is, in many ways, a socialist economy, this massive socialization of financial-market risk should put such doubts to rest. Capitalism, requiescat in pace.

26 July 2008 at 10:09 pm 4 comments


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