Browsing articles in "Articles"
Feb 3, 2013

Rescuing banks, not borrowers

Gretchen Morgenson recounts Tim Geithner’s accomplishments as Treasury Secretary for Obama 1.0:

How did Treasury favor the banks? Consider its answer to the foreclosure mess. After promising to help four million borrowers, its Home Affordable Modification Program at last count had helped about one-quarter of that number.

One reason for this is that the program was flawed from the start.

First, the Treasury made the program voluntary, awarding funds to participating banks but failing to penalize those that did not. The program was all carrot, no stick.

Worse, the initial plan didn’t require the banks to write down second liens they may have held — like home equity lines — from borrowers whose original loans were modified. This let the banks put their interests ahead of both borrowers and those who held the first mortgages.

Read how HAMP was hampered here.

Jan 25, 2013

Take a joke

The Times reports free-market funnies from documents unearthed in a case now before the New York State Supreme Court:

On March 16, 2007, Morgan Stanley employees working on one of the toxic assets that helped blow up the world economy discussed what to name it. Among the team members’ suggestions: “Subprime Meltdown,” “Hitman,” “Nuclear Holocaust” and “Mike Tyson’s Punchout,” as well a simple yet direct reference to a bag of excrement.

Ha ha. Those hilarious investment bankers.

Then they gave it its real name and sold it to a Chinese bank.

Read here what they don’t teach about banking in B-school.

Jan 25, 2013

Opportunity cost

Quiz 4 the day: Who said this?

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.

 

Answer: President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953.

Bonus question: What was his political party?

Quoted in Jill Lepore’s short history of the military-industrial complex in this week’s New Yorker. Read it here.

Jan 20, 2013

The student debt trap and inequality in America

Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz writes:

In 2010, student debt, now $1 trillion, exceeded credit-card debt for the first time.

Student debt can almost never be wiped out, even in bankruptcy. A parent who co-signs a loan can’t necessarily have the debt discharged even if his child dies. The debt can’t be discharged even if the school — operated for profit and owned by exploitative financiers — provided an inadequate education, enticed the student with misleading promises, and failed to get her a decent job.

Instead of pouring money into the banks, we could have tried rebuilding the economy from the bottom up…. We could have recognized that when young people are jobless, their skills atrophy. We could have made sure that every young person was either in school, in a training program or on a job. Instead, we let youth unemployment rise to twice the national average. The children of the rich can stay in college or attend graduate school, without accumulating enormous debt, or take unpaid internships to beef up their résumés. Not so for those in the middle and bottom. We are sowing the seeds of ever more inequality in the coming years.

Read his dissection of how economic and political inequality are poisoning opportunity in America here.

Jan 11, 2013

Development: beyond aid and trade

Dani Rodrik explains how rich countries could promote development overseas:

First, a new global compact should focus more directly on rich countries’ responsibilities. Second, it should emphasize policies beyond aid and trade that have an equal, if not greater, impact on poor countries’ development prospects.

A short list of such policies would include:

  • carbon taxes and other measures to ameliorate climate change;
  • more work visas to allow larger temporary migration flows from poor countries;
  • strict controls on arms sales to developing nations;
  • reduced support for repressive regimes; and
  • improved sharing of financial information to reduce money laundering and tax avoidance.

Notice that most of these measures are actually aimed at reducing damage—for example, climate change, military conflict, and financial crime—that otherwise results from rich countries’ conduct. “Do no harm” is as good a principle here as it is in medicine.

Read his piece here.

Jan 9, 2013

Health care: where profits warp incentives

Echoing our recent Econ4 statement, Eduardo Porter explains in the New York Times why our healthcare-for-profit system means that Americans pay too much and get too little:

From the high administrative costs incurred by health insurers to screen out sick patients to the array of expensive treatments prescribed by doctors who earn more money for every treatment they provide, our private health care industry provides perhaps the clearest illustration of how the profit motive can send incentives astray.

By many objective measures, the mostly private American system delivers worse value for money than every other in the developed world. We spend nearly 18 percent of the nation’s economic output on health care and still manage to leave tens of millions of Americans without adequate access to care.

Read his piece here.

Jan 7, 2013

The austerity fallacy

Austerity policies are founded on a fallacy of composition: the mistaken notion that if something is true of the part (in this case, households), it must be true of the whole (in this case, the nation’s economy). Paul Krugman, writing in the Times, explains the difference:

An economy is not like a household. A family can decide to spend less and try to earn more. But in the economy as a whole, spending and earning go together: my spending is your income; your spending is my income. If everyone tries to slash spending at the same time, incomes will fall — and unemployment will soar….

The crisis in Greece [from 2010] was taken, wrongly, as a sign that all governments had better slash spending and deficits right away. Austerity became the order of the day, and supposed experts who should have known better cheered the process on, while the warnings of some (but not enough) economists that austerity would derail recovery were ignored. For example, the president of the European Central Bank confidently asserted that “the idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect.”

Well, someone was incorrect, all right.

Read his piece here.

Dec 9, 2012

New narrative for a new economy

John Cavanagh and Robin Broad write on the new economy movement:

If the Occupy movement popularized the call to end extreme inequality, Hurricane Sandy is popularizing the call to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure in a green and resilient manner. Weaving these themes together can make for a gripping narrative.

Read more here.

Nov 2, 2012

Economics denial

The New York Times reports today on attempts to suppress a Congressional Research Service report showing that tax cuts for the rich don’t create jobs:

“The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie,” the report said. “However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.”

Read the Times piece here.

Read the suppressed report here.

Nov 1, 2012

How not to create jobs

Lessons from Recent History 101: the Bush tax cuts.

It is Orwellian that after a decade of trillion dollar tax cuts and bailouts of the rich, and a steadily worsening jobs and employment picture for American workers, we are told to be kind to the rich and give them even more money because they are the “jobs creators”.

Read more here.