05/15/2012 archive

Not Capitalism

Modern economic philosophy is generally considered to have started with Smith and Hobbes who were reacting against a system of monarchal merchantilism where favored courtiers were rewarded with monopolies in a planned economy enforced by a state claim of exclusive authority on violence.

Read that again because it’s important.

Their groundbreaking contribution was the concept that markets (individuals) could more efficiently allocate resources (capital) than corrupt cronyism.  You know, free market capitalism.

Compare and contrast-

End of the Affair?

The Editors of The New York Times

Published: May 14, 2012

There has been less buying and selling of stock, and there have been huge outflows of investor dollars from domestic stock mutual funds, as detailed recently by The Times’s Nathaniel Popper. If the trend continues, the result could be a less robust market, with fewer companies opting to raise money by issuing shares and fewer investors willing to put their retirement savings into stocks.

Policy makers should pay attention. Evidence suggests that investors are not merely reacting to tough conditions, but rather are staying away because they do not trust the market. Restoring trust is crucial to restoring the market.

American stocks have doubled in price since the market hit bottom three years ago. But trading in the United States stock market has not only failed to recover since the 2008 financial crash, it has continued to fall. In April, average daily trades stood at 6.5 billion, about half their peak four years ago. By comparison, after the market busts of 1987 and 2001, trading recovered within two years. In fact, going back to 1960, trading had never declined for three consecutive years, let alone four and counting.

Investors haven’t just hunkered down, they have headed for the exits. Since the start of 2008, domestic stock mutual funds, a common way for individuals to invest, were drained of more than $400 billion, compared with an inflow of $52 billion in the four years before that.

There is also the feeling that the market has become increasingly unfair to investors. For example, Mr. Popper also reported recently on rebates to brokers from stock exchanges. In general, brokers are required to find the best prices for clients who pay them to buy and sell shares. But with the nation’s 13 exchanges now paying brokers for sending them business, brokers may have an incentive to search for the biggest rebate rather than the best price. A new study has estimated that rebates could be costing mutual funds, pension funds and individual investors as much as $5 billion a year.

Also known as “maker-taker” pricing, the rebates have caught the attention of market researchers and investor advocates, including two former economists for the Securities and Exchange Commission who issued a report in 2010 saying that “in other contexts, these payments would be recognized as illegal kickbacks.”

I realize citation of major media outlets is considered but a quaint remnant of irrelevant reality by sycophants and ‘bots, but I thought I’d draw this to your attention.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Jamie Dimon’s JPMorgan Chase: Why It’s the Scandal of Our Time

They’re missing the point. When CEO Jamie Dimon announced that JPMorgan Chase had incurred at least $2 billion in losses from risky, unsecured, derivatives-types trading, it uncovered the scandal of our time once and for all.

The Chase disaster gives us a much-needed a glimpse into our corrupt political system, its Wall Street paymasters, and the media voices that allow people like Dimon to escape scrutiny.

The JPMorgan Chase story is the story behind the financial crisis that has thrown millions of people out of work. It’s the story behind our ever-growing wealth inequity. It’s the story behind Washington’s inability to prosecute criminal bankers, regulate reckless ones, and propose the economic solutions the rest of us urgently need.

New York Times Editorial: End of the Affair?

Investors are shunning the stock market, and who can blame them? As serial bubbles have burst, faith in the market has been rewarded with shattered retirements. At the same time, trust has been destroyed by scandals and – as demonstrated by the reckless trading at JPMorgan Chase – the slow, uncertain pace of financial reform.

There has been less buying and selling of stock, and there have been huge outflows of investor dollars from domestic stock mutual funds, as detailed recently by The Times’s Nathaniel Popper. If the trend continues, the result could be a less robust market, with fewer companies opting to raise money by issuing shares and fewer investors willing to put their retirement savings into stocks.

Policy makers should pay attention. Evidence suggests that investors are not merely reacting to tough conditions, but rather are staying away because they do not trust the market. Restoring trust is crucial to restoring the market.

Dean Baker: Deficit Reduction: The Great Distraction

This is the week of the third annual Deficit Fest, the event sponsored by Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson. At this event, many of the people most responsible for the current downturn come together to tell us why we should be worried about the deficit at a time when 25 million people are unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking for work altogether and millions face the prospect of losing their homes.

Past deficit fests included exchanges where Peter Peterson and former Treasury Secretary and Citigroup honcho Robert Rubin mused about their comparative net worth. We also got to witness President Clinton bemoan the fact that the Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress teamed up to prevent him from cutting Social Security. Had Clinton gotten his way, millions of seniors would be getting by on Social Security checks that are more than 10 percent smaller than what they now receive.

Peter Rothberg: Stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed free trade agreement under secret negotiation between Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Branded as a “trade deal” by its corporate proponents, the TPP would actually establish new corporate rights to undermine environmental and health laws, offshore millions of American jobs, flood the US with untested food products, and extend the duration of medical patents. Its expansive non-trade provisions would impose constraints on government regulation of financial firms and food safety. As the Huffington Post‘s Zach Carter reported, the TPP would even ban the widely popular “Buy America” procurement policy.

George Zornick: The Chamber’s Dishonest Ad Campaign is Underway

The US Chamber of Commerce has promised to mount “the most significant political effort in its 100-year history” to influence this fall’s Congressional races-and, not surprisingly, it’s looking to be a daring exercise in dishonesty as well.

The Chamber rolled out a national television ad last week hitting Democrats who voted for healthcare reform, and now Senator Bill Nelson, who is facing a tough re-election campaign in Florida, is marshaling his lawyers to have the ad pulled from the air waves because of dishonest claims.

The spot contains a particularly explosive charge, particularly in Florida-and one that Republicans have often repeated: “Seniors will see $500 billion in Medicare cuts to fund Obamacare.” See the ad here, as tailored for Nelson . . .

Alan Grayson: A Not-Dumb War

Last week, I wrote about President Obama’s announcement that he had signed an agreement to extend the US military occupation of Afghanistan for twelve more years. I said that, at this point, the war in Afghanistan very much resembles what, in October 2002, State Sen. Barack Obama called a “dumb war.”

Which begs this question: what is not a “dumb war”? Well, we just saw a good example of a not-dumb war, at least if you happen to be French.

On This Day In History May 15

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on image to enlarge

May 15 is the 135th day of the year (136th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 230 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1776, the Virginia Convention instructs its Continental Congress delegation to propose a resolution of independence from Great Britain, paving the way for the United States Declaration of Independence.

The Virginia Conventions were a series of five political meetings in the Colony of Virginiaduring the American Revolution. Because the House of Burgesses had been dissolved in 1774 by Royal Governor Lord Dunmore, the conventions served as a revolutionary provisional government until the establishment of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia in 1776.

The fifth convention began May 6, 1776 and met in Williamsburg. On May 15, the convention declared independence from Britain and adopted a set of three momentous resolutions: one calling for a declaration of rights for Virginia, one calling for establishment of a republican constitution, and a third calling for federal relations with whichever other colonies would have them and alliance with whichever foreign countries would have them. It also instructed its delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to declare independence. Virginia’s congressional delegation was thus the only one under unconditional positive instructions to declare independence; Virginia was already independent, and so its convention did not want their state, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, to “hang separately.” According to James Madison’s correspondence for that day, Williamsburg residents marked the occasion by taking down the Union Jack from over the colonial capitol and running up a continental union flag.

On June 7, Richard Henry Lee, one of Virginia’s delegates to Congress, carried out these instructions and proposed independence in the language the convention had commanded him to use: that “these colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” This paved the way for the American Declaration of Independence, which also reflected the idea that not one nation, but thirteen free and independent states were aborning on the east coast of North America.

The convention amended, and on June 12 adopted, George Mason‘s Declaration of Rights, a precursor to the United States Bill of Rights. On June 29, the convention approved the first Constitution of Virginia, which was also the first written constitution adopted by the people’s representatives in the history of the world. The convention chose Patrick Henry as the first governor of the new Commonwealth of Virginia, and he was inaugurated on June 29, 1776. Thus, Virginia had a functioning, permanent, republican constitution before July 4, 1776 — uniquely among the thirteen American colonies.

Why Are Bank CEO’s Seated on the New York Federal Reserve?

Why is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, or for that matter any bank CEO, sitting on the board of the body that is supposed to regulate their banks? This is a serious conflict of interest in the face of the 2008 bank crisis and, now, the $2 billion loss by Chase. $2 billion, a pittance you say. Well consider that loss triggered a drop in Chase’s market value by another $20 billion

As Matt Taibbi points this is a cause for public concern:

[..] J.P. Morgan Chase is a federally-insured depository institution that has been and will continue to be the recipient of massive amounts of public assistance. If the bank fails, someone will reach into your pocket to pay for the cleanup. So when they gamble like drunken sailors, it’s everyone’s problem. [..]

{T}he incident underscored the basic problem. If J.P. Morgan Chase wants to act like a crazed cowboy hedge fund and make wild exacta bets on the derivatives market, they should be welcome to do so. But they shouldn’t get to do it with cheap cash from the Fed’s discount window, and they shouldn’t get to do it with money from the federally-insured bank accounts of teachers, firemen and other such real people. It’s a simple concept: you either get to be a bank, or you get to be a casino. But you can’t be both. If we don’t have rules to enforce that concept, we ought to get some.

Dimon being on the board of the New York Federal Reserve is absurd:

The chief executive of JP Morgan Chase — the largest bank in the land, and the exemplar of a ‘too big to fail’ institution — is allowed to sit at the table with the people tasked with deciding when and how much of other people’s money gets earmarked for his rescue. This is not the fox guarding the hen house; this is the fox guarding the hen house while selling synthetic derivatives whose value increases with every hen he gobbles up, and who burns down the hen house so he can collect on his fire insurance policy, and then gets the government to build him a new hen house at taxpayer expense. And then, after that, he still gets to guard the new hen house.

Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat running for U.S. Senate, called for Dimon’s removal:

JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon should resign from the NY Federal Reserve Bank Board

Last week, JP Morgan Chase announced a $2 billion trading loss in two months.

Sunday on Meet the Press, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon said, “We know we were sloppy, we know we were stupid, we know there was bad judgment.”

After the biggest financial crisis in generations, Americans are frustrated that Wall Street has still not been held accountable and does not appear to consider itself responsible. Wall Street banks continue to have fundamental problems, and tough oversight and accountability are urgently needed.

Dimon is not only the CEO of JP Morgan, he is also a member of the Board of Directors of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, where he advises the Federal Reserve on the oversight of the financial industry.

Dimon should resign from his post at the New York Fed to send a signal to the American people that Wall Street bankers get it and to show that they understand the need for responsibility and accountability.

Sign Ms. Warren’s petition for Dimon to resign


Greece Edging Towards Euro Exit

Negotiations with party leaders to form a government in Greece fell apart again, as Greece inches closer to new elections in June that could usher in the left wing Socialist government opposed to the draconian austerity agreement with the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Eurozone. Talks will resume on Tuesday but the moderate Democratic Left party in Greece says it will not join pro-bailout parties in a coalition without the more radical far-left Syriza. It doesn’t sound promising but technically President Karolos Papoulias has until Thursday when Parliament reconvenes:

Without the support of Democrat Left, a decidedly “pro-European” force which won 19 seats in parliament, the New Democracy party and centre-left Pasok party fall two seats short of being able to achieve a workable majority.

Syriza, an alliance of leftists and ecologists that emerged as the poll’s surprise runner-up – and has since seen its popularity surge on the back of anti-austerity sentiment – rejected the idea of participating in a government that it claimed was bent on “destroying Greece”. Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s young firebrand leader, refused to even attend the negotiations. [..]

Syriza, whose popularity has risen on a platform of rejecting such measures, is projected to win the election with as much as 27%, according to polls conducted over the past week. Tsipras, an unabashed populist who counts Hugo Chávez among his heroes, has promised to renegotiate the painstakingly acquired bailout agreement Athens has signed with foreign lenders.

With the radical left fast dominating a political landscape whose traditional parties have been decimated for backing policies now blamed for record levels of poverty and unemployment, analysts believe it is only a matter of time before Greece is cut loose from Europe. The result, they say, will be a dramatic decline in living standards as the debt-stricken country, bereft of international rescue funds, slips ever deeper into poverty.

The markets reacted negatively with the prospect of a Greek withdrawal from the euro:

Financial and energy shares fell the most among 10 groups in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Bank of America Corp. (BAC) sank at least 2.6 percent as European lenders slumped. Alcoa Inc. (AA) and Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB) slid more than 1.5 percent to pace declines in commodity producers. Symantec Corp. (SYMC), the biggest seller of security software, retreated 1.4 percent after Goldman Sachs Group Inc. cut its recommendation.

The S&P 500 slid 1.1 percent to 1,338.35 at 4 p.m. New York time, the lowest since Feb. 2. The Dow fell 125.25 points, or 1 percent, to 12,695.35. The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, which measures the cost of using options as insurance against S&P 500 losses, rose 10 percent to an almost four-month high of 21.87. About 6.6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, in line with the three-month average.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union was handed a defeat in Sunday’s election in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, receiving only 26% of the vote:

The outcome will be seen as a rejection by voters of the strict austerity policy promoted by Ms Merkel’s party at both local and national level, and a boost for the opposition. It will encourage the SPD and Greens to campaign all out for a “red-green” coalition at national level when Ms Merkel stands for re-election in autumn 2013. [..]

Opinion polls suggested that voters did not regard Ms Merkel’s national and European policies as relevant, and opted instead for the popular “red-green” coalition in the state, headed by Hannelore Kraft of the SPD, which had governed without an absolute majority for the past two years. The surprise election was caused by the defeat of Ms Kraft’s annual budget by the CDU, FDP and the far-left Linke party.

The defeat is the worst suffered by Ms Merkel’s CDU since the party lost control last year of the state of Baden-Württemberg in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Chancellor Merkel has chosen to ignore the defeat at home and stuck to her position on austerity agreement with Greece:

Merkel tells Greece to back cuts or face euro exit

Greece may be forced to leave the euro if the country refuses to implement spending cuts agreed with the European Union, Angela Merkel warned. [..]

Yesterday, Mrs Merkel raised the spectre of Greece leaving the euro. She is under increasing pressure in Germany to force the country out of the single currency to avert several more years of uncertainty. “I believe it’s better for the Greeks to stay in the euro area, but that also requires that we set out a path on which Greece gets back on its feet step by step,” said the chancellor.

“The solidarity for the euro will end only if Greece just says, ‘We’re not keeping to the [austerity] agreement.’ But I don’t expect that to happen. I do think they are making an effort. There are many, many people in Greece who actually want it.”

The worries over will happen to the Greek economy should they exit from the euro are really unknown. From Paul Krugman:

In particular, I keep reading that Argentina’s example is irrelevant, because Greece has hardly any exports.  [..]

What is true is that Greece doesn’t export a lot of goods. But it exports a lot of services – shipping and tourism (pdf). How might these respond to the devaluation of the new drachma? [..]

This isn’t a prediction that everything will be fine, but it is a caution that the pessimism about Greek prospects once the turmoil is past may be overdone.

If the left wing holds out and wins enough of a majority in June to form a new government, we’ll find out sooner than later who’s right about Greek prospects without the euro.

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