And this brings us to Alan Greenspan, whom I've known for over 50 years and who I regarded as one of the best young business economists. Townsend-Greenspan was his company. But the trouble is that he had been an Ayn Rander. You can take the boy out of the cult but you can't take the cult out of the boy. He actually had instruction, probably pinned on the wall: "Nothing from this office should go forth which discredits the capitalist system. Greed is good."Not that we're showing any inclination of learning from our mistakes. (I'm finding it difficult to write this post while saluting Time Magazine with a double middle finger salute.) Here's Greenspan's disciple in May, 2007:
"Importantly, we see no serious broad spillover to banks or thrift institutions from the problems in the subprime market," Bernanke said. "The troubled lenders, for the most part, have not been institutions with federally insured deposits."And he was wrong again:
He was wrong. Five of the 10 largest subprime lenders during the previous year were banks regulated by the Fed. Even as Bernanke spoke, the spillover from subprime lending was driving the banking industry into a historic crisis that some firms would not survive. And the upheaval would shove the economy into recession.
The Fed let Citigroup make vast investments without setting aside enough money to cover its eventual losses. The company would need more than $45 billion in federal aid.And again while serving on the Fed's Board of Governors:
The Fed watched as National City made billions of dollars in subprime loans that were never repaid. Regulators would arrange its sale to a rival, PNC.
And the Fed approved Wachovia's purchase of a California mortgage lender shortly before California mortgage lenders led the nation into recession. Wachovia, on the verge of collapse, was bought by Wells Fargo with government help.
The dangers of securitization were underscored the very next month by the collapse of energy giant Enron, which had abused the same accounting rules to conceal losses from investors. But in 2003, the board that writes accounting rules backed away from planned reforms after banks protested that Enron was an exception. The Fed sided with the industry, telling the board that securitization was safe and important to the economy, according to people familiar with the deliberations.And how about one more time:
In January 2005, National City's chief economist had delivered a prescient warning to the Fed's board of governors: An increasingly overvalued housing market posed a threat to the broader economy, not to mention his own bank and others deeply involved in writing mortgages.
The message wasn't well received. One board member expressed particular skepticism -- Ben Bernanke.
"Where do you think it will be the worst?" Bernanke asked, according to people who attended the meeting, one in a series of sessions the Fed holds with economists.
"I would have to say California," said the economist, Richard Dekaser.
"They have been saying that about California since I bought my first house in 1979," Bernanke replied.
Woops. Apparently "they" were right. Routinely. Not that Bernanke's resume is going to keep the senate from rubber-stamping his bid for a second term as Fed chairman. He did the only thing that matters: left bankers alone and bailed them out when they fucked up. If only we could all be coddled for our incompetence.