The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America (Anglais) Relié – 31 octobre 2011
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The book starts off with details on how, in the past, the banks leveraged capital and how their methods of investment were contingent on a constant upward spiral of success. He goes on to talk about how the fed propped Wall Street up with hopes of creating wealth through the stock market and that he believes they have overstepped their bounds. He criticizes Greenspan for his fiscal policies and compares that bubble to the one we are in today. Most of the book talks about the past and how we can relate it to the present and what we can learn from the mistakes made by our predecessors.
The facts and statistics he presents show that the "too big to fail" ideology adopted by the government was incorrect and in fact, many of the companies that received bailouts had sufficient assets to fend for themselves. Using AIG as an example, he outlines the overall sector's strengths and weakness during the crash of 2008. He asserts that during times of financial crisis, such as the crash of 2000, companies would inaccurately portray sales in order to make their company appear more valuable.
Highly critical of the Fed, many of his opinions are based around failures of the federal government to correctly manage the economy. Most of the time, he believes that their attempts to bolster the economy stem from pressure from business, rich people, or other government entities. He takes the reader through all of the United States' bubbles since before the Great Depression and explains the causes of each one. According to his statistics, most of the bubbles were caused by the Fed unnecessarily pumping money into the economy. He talks about the $800 billion stimulus and the minimal impact that it has had. He believes Bernanke and Obama are merely buying borrowed time with borrowed money.
The most interesting parts are when he quotes grim situations which highlight the depth of corruption in the government and big banks. In one instance, during the financial crisis of 2008, the Chairperson of the FDIC was "rarely consulted" and when she was, she was commanded: "you have to do this or the system will go down." There was "no analysis, no meaningful discussion." She expressed her frustration and explained that it became commonplace for her to be forced to carry out orders without being told the reasons or the end goals behind those orders. Generally, the government was unable to give reasons because they were acting on the whim of large banks. In another story, a head government official recounts the CEO of Goldman Sachs coercing him into providing the banks with bailout, lest their be dire consequences. The book has many shocking stories such as these. Each uncovers a different piece of corruption that, when added up, reveals a frightening picture of our government today.
It was VERY detailed. There were countless facts and statistics to support his arguments and viewpoints.
It provided a good snapshot into the inner workings of politics and government monetary policy.
He provided factual stories and quotes throughout the book.
He focused on many of the large power-players in our economy and their roles in the financial crashes.
The book tended to jump from time period to time period. One moment it's about the Great Depression, and the next, it's current. It can make it difficult to follow at times. It also makes it difficult to review.
It can be repetitive. Many of the things are said more than once or they are just reworded.
It's a bit dry. Even with the stories and shocking data, I still found it hard to concentrate.
What an awesome romp through the economic, financial, and monetary shenanigans that culminated in the financial crisis of 2008, and its aftermath! It hones in on the Fed, Wall Street, corporate America, and the bog of "crony capitalism" and "central planning." He is consistently bipartisan: when he bashes Mitt Romney in one chapter, he'll bash President Obama in the next--because financial and economic principles matter, not party affiliation. An attitude that got him in trouble with the White House back in the day. And he does it in a pungent voice, kicking shins left and right, and knocking out a few teeth too, while vacillating in the gray area between rage and humor.
In Part I, "The Blackberry Panic of 2008," Chapter 1, "Paulson's Folly: The Needless Rescue of AIG and Wall Street"--the titles are part of the pleasure of the book--sets the tone with its bloodcurdling analysis of AIG's bailout and who benefited from it. He aims, as he writes, "to unpeel the onion of obfuscation that has emanated from Wall Street, bailout apologists, and the trio of Washington economic doctrines that assume the state can revive a failing economy when, in reality, it is a failing state that is crushing what remains of Main Street prosperity."
Skewering company after company for their financial practices, he calls Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley "the last two predators standing," GE Capital an "unstable house of cards," and GMAC "the single most malodorous" of the financing companies. Their "bailouts hemorrhaged into a multibillion-dollar assault on the rules of sound money and free market capitalism." And he ridicules Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's rationale for printing money as "Great Depression bugaboo"
He lambasts Republicans not only for having opened the Treasury's floodgates with TARP but also for having turned the Fed over to the "money printers and Wall Street coddlers" Alan Greenspan and Bernanke, who congratulated themselves for "the phony prosperity they fostered." Yet Bernanke's "bailout spasms" of 2008 confirmed the "triumphs of crony capitalism." Not a breath is wasted.
In Part II, "The Reagan Era Revisited: False Narratives of our Times," he dives deeper into history and shows how events of the 1980s paved the way for the Republican-led bailouts of 2008. In the process, he debunks the GOP's "nostalgic claim" that the current fiasco could be fixed somehow by returning to "undiluted Reaganism."
It wasn't supply-side dynamics but the 12-year Keynesian deficit-funded spending frenzy under Reagan and George H. W. Bush that created this "phony prosperity." It left Republicans with the "insidious idea" that deficits don't matter. And in 2008, there were no conservatives left "to safeguard the gates of the Treasury." Instead, to goose growth, they focused on "tax cut gimmicks."
The Reagan Revolution envisioned that the rising tide would lift all boats, based on market dynamics. In reality much of the growth in wealth over the last three decades originated in financial and real-estate bubbles caused by "profligate borrowing" of the government and "the money-printing spree" of the Fed. Despite the core tenet of the Reagan Revolution that the boundaries of the government should recede, the government became "ever more corpulent" even as the tax burden was reduced, and as household and businesses piled on debt. Hence the "deformation" of the Reagan Revolution.
In Chapter 5, "Triumph of the Warfare State: How the Budget Battle Was Lost," Stockman recounts how, after large tax reductions had been put in place, the defense budget for 1982 suddenly was 50% larger than the number previously assumed. Stockman was "dumfounded" when he learned about "this calamitous result." It was the beginning of a spending spree on conventional arms--tanks, helicopters, and the like--that had no relationship to the Soviet nuclear threat. After the Soviet Empire collapsed, it was clear that the only thing missing was a "plausible justification" for a conventional war. Thus, the Reagan Revolution, the "tribune of small government," turned into the "great enabler of the 1980s warfare state revival." It entailed "staggering waste and lamentable historical consequences."
Then he slams the "Triumph of the Welfare State" and--whiplash--the "anti-tax religion" of the GOP, the "supply-side fantasy" that lower taxes and more growth would reduce deficits. Instead, deficits ballooned even during the phenomenal 1983-1990 Reagan-Bush recovery, proof that supply-side economics is a hoax. In the process, the Republicans' taboo against chronic deficit financing in peacetime was jettisoned. So a push for higher outlays from liberals was met with a push for lower taxes from conservatives. They both had their way. Hence, today's budget nightmare.
The root cause dates back to August 1971, the "Nixon abomination," when President Nixon took the US off the gold standard, thus defaulting on the promise to redeem US debt in gold. It "paved the way for the eventual deformation of central banking" and "institutionalized monetization on a massive scale" that would allow the gigantic deficits of the 1980s to accumulate without dislocations. So, the Reagan Revolution wasn't the apex of free market capitalism but a stepping stone to "the BlackBerry Panic of 2008."
In Part III, "New Deal Legends and the Twilight of Sound Money," Stockman, armed with a plethora of detail, debunks the current generation of "high priests of Keynesianism" who follow the presumed "sacred texts" of that era: the Bush and Obama administrations. They touted deficit spending as a solution to the "illusory depression bogyman" of the financial crisis.
But the New Deal created what would become monsters that played a prominent role in 2008, for example Fannie Mae that offered low-rate 30-year mortgages that were too risky for banks. So began the slippery slope of separating the mortgage origination process from owning and servicing the mortgage. It moved funding mortgages away from local banks and their deposits to global financial markets. And it gave rise to the "housing complex" with all its shenanigans that culminated in September 2008 with a $6 trillion bailout of the GSEs.
In Part IV, "The Age of Bubble Finance," Stockman contends that taking the US off the gold standard created a "casino" attitude of finance that blew up in mid-October, 1987, when the market crashed. Instead of allowing the excesses to be purged, Greenspan, a proponent of free-market ideology, embarked on flooding the market with cash--even though the real economy was growing at a healthy clip. Since then, "meddling by financial officialdom" has become "standard operating procedure." Greenspan had misunderstood the "most thunderous wakeup call in financial history" and ended up ignoring the "corrupting influence" of the printed money they were handing out.
The era of the "Greenspan put" had begun. It set the stage for future mayhem, including the concept of too big to fail. The Fed became "the speculator's best friend." Serial bubbles ensued, including stock market bubbles and the $11 trillion housing bubble, the "great housing deformation" that bloated Main Street consumption with borrowed money and brought real-estate speculation to neighborhoods.
Normally, the bursting of the Greenspan debt bubble would have been followed by a long deleveraging cycle to undo the "phony growth of the bubble years," accompanied by downward pressure on consumer prices--a "modest reprieve" after forty years of inflation that whittled down the value of the dollar to 25 cents.
But Bernanke would have none of it. Instead, he played the "deflation card," and everything below 2% inflation suddenly became deflation. He used "economic alchemy" to insist that higher inflation would somehow create jobs. Turns out, the "money printing spree was a dud" and resulted in the feeblest job creation in half a century.
Part V, "Sundown in America: The End of Free Markets and Democracy" is where presidential candidate Romney gets gored for his "fiscal dereliction" (i.e. defense and Social Security) and for his "complete failure" to see that free market capitalism had been "fatally corrupted" by the Fed's coddling of Wall Street. The company he helped found, Bain Capital, an outgrowth of that Great Deformation, "garnered fabulous winnings through leveraged speculation" in markets that had been "perverted and deformed" by the Fed. And this experience, despite what Romney claimed, didn't qualify him for the Oval Office.
Then the Obama administration gets gored for its sins, among them the "green energy extravaganza" and electric car boondoggle, and the bailouts of GM and Chrysler that didn't save any jobs but "just reshuffled them from rising plants in right-to-work (red) states to dying plants in UAW (blue) states." These bailouts were a "crushing blow to free market capitalism."
Stockman spreads the blame for the auto bailouts: they were initiated by the "nation's bailout crazed de facto president, Hank Paulson" and became a "bipartisan embrace." Stockman argues that the free market would have provided debtor-in-possession loans, just as the government did, to take the automakers out of bankruptcy, though the interest rate would have been higher.
But on Main Street, the recovery was "utterly botched." Instead of "breadwinner jobs," we once again have "faux prosperity." The Bernanke bubble is "an even sketchier version" of the Greenspan bubble, focused on the "deliberate and relentless reflation of financial asset prices." The money-printing spree, a "gift" to Wall Street and the "1 percent," ignited another round of rampant speculation and created a "wealth effect tonic that boosted spending at Nordstrom and Coach." The wealth of the "1 percent" has recovered to the pre-crisis level, but successful Fed-driven speculation isn't a sign of "honest economic recovery" but a "prelude to yet another spectacular meltdown."
The Great Deformation is a hefty 700+ pages. Each chapter is divided into short blistering sections with intriguing titles, and it's easy to read in small increments. The wealth of economic and political history is drawn together with constant focus on the financial crisis and its aftermath. We might not agree with every point and observation, and we might get antsy when Stockman slaughters one by one our sacred cows, but we enjoy following his analysis and his inner fire, his bitter logic, and his thoughts--while his language leaves us smiling so many times.
I also posted this review on my website. The link to my site is on my Amazon author page.
Stockman first went to Washington almost 40 years ago as a Representative. He's a former Supply-Side advocate and was Reagan's Budget Chief in the 1980s. In addition to Stockman's factually based critiques of the current Obama/Bernanke Monetary policy, he also criticizes the economically destructive path the Reagan administration took. The Great Depression and other eras are also focused on in "Deformation," as they do relate to our present-day situation. The facts speak for themselves.
The government and Wall Street are intertwined with Wall St. having the upper-hand: the stick. Stockman details the main reasons for TARP and the subsequent stimuli: lobbying, pressure, and scare tactics by a very small number of extremely wealthy and powerful people on Wall street. As for the corruption angle in "Deformation," Stockman specifically focuses on the TBTF (too big to fail) mainstream media campaign, and and in particular on the AIG bailout. He provides numerous stats, actions and quotations to reveal the fraud involved in this. The 2008 meltdown led immediately to a Wall Street orchestrated "Great Fear." One of the major players in this campaign was the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Stockman also goes back in time and methodically covers and links Greenspan's actions in the 1980s and 90s under particular situations. Then (as now), creating money and pumping that newly-created money into specific places (and in the general circulation). This was the remedy. It is still the remedy now, but in a larger and more destructive way. Why is the S & P now at an all-time high in April, 2013? Notice, that there are no celebrations nor positive commentary regarding this all-time high.
The Future is Now:
Stockman (and many others with experience and credentials) are correct: the US has been kicking the can down the road for decades. Now, we are at end of the road. Not tomorrow, not in a couple of years in the future, but now. One example is the recent sequester. It is only $85 billion in cuts out of a multi-trillion dollar budget, but it has brought tails of woe from the 'working person' dependent upon regular paychecks to cover monthly maintenance debt payments to mainstream media fear disseminated in a soap-opera like fashion. These fiscal cliff issues and sequester (translation ---> austerity) will become the norm. It has only just begun.
Stockman uses a plethora of sources and statistics to reinforce and augment his points throughout this book. He does give opinions, but primarily he just gives the facts. He does lighten "Deformation" up with stories and parables which illustrate concepts (the pig farmer) and this is very well done. He notes Bain Capital's failed Fed-like business model and also critiques the Laffer-Curve.
Stockman's take on the future: political turmoil and economic decline. Both have already begun.
"The Great Deformation" is a book that should be read by everyone.
Stockman offers several ideas that could be implemented in an ideal world; however, these ideas are not tied together by an overall theory. Stockman believes in the free market, a smaller government, and in government safety nets for people who pass a means test, which place him into an economic middle ground where government protects at a basic level but lets the market decide who wins and loses the economic game on a larger scale. He is neither a classical economist or a Keynesian. But what he actually is on a theoretical basis is unknown and this leaves us wondering what he would recommend in situations he has not covered.
Stockman's analysis fails on many levels when it comes to specifics. Like many a liberal he wants the military cut to Eisenhower levels and he wants to eliminate the conventional military force and depend on a nuclear deterrent alone. This was exactly what Truman tried and it resulted in an invasion of Korea. The communist correctly reasoned that the US would not risk a nuclear war over S. Korea; thus, the US entered the war with surplus WWII equipment and poor training for the front line troops. The results were nearly a disaster. Naturally, Stockman does not discuss this setback. Will we risk a nuclear war for Kuwait? No is the obvious answer, and that would allow dictators to conquer small nations with impunity. So the military reduction idea he offers has been tried and it failed. We do not need to be the world's policeman, but we must be able to protect vital national interests. What those are is up for debate, as Syria clearly shows, and perhaps a reduced military would cut back presidential adventurism; however, a fall back to the nuclear deterrent alone is foolish in the extreme.
Mr. Stockman admits his work is a polemic, which indeed it is, but it is a poorly organized polemic. The author throws ideas out faster and with more jargon than Dennis Miller answering a question about Apple's Steve Jobs, but they are also about as well organized. The Great Deformation goes over the same ground many times and makes the same points many times. The history of our republic, from an economic view, should have been handled in one place rather than repeated in chapter after chapter. Also, Mr. Stockman makes the mistake of critiquing decisions without context. When Nixon made the decision to go off the gold standard, gold was streaming out of the country in exchange for dollars and he faced an extraordinarily hard set of choices. Instead of laying out the choices and telling us why Stockman's choice was better he just dumps on Nixon's decision. Without the background context of the decisions his criticisms are not understandable. Yes, I get it that he doesn't like the decision and from an macroeconomic point of view the decision (whatever it was) was bad, but it is hard to agree with a person who leaves out the context of the decisions. Spending more time on context could have strengthened Stockman's arguments appreciably.
Then there is the vitriol. This constant spewing of venom actually makes the book harder to read. Stockman's last chapters try to justify the harsh language because he thinks we are destroyed and there is no fix. We do not have the political will to fix the problems, thus they will destroy us, according to the author. I agree that the politicians have destroyed the USA with their Keynesian policies, but harsh language and jargon will not help put the arguments over. If Mr. Stockman organized his work and left out the jargon and the vitriol the book could have been reduced by over 100 pages and made improved arguments for his position. He also assumes the reader has a rather firm grasp of various economic principles; however, an appendix would have been useful to fully explain some of these ideas in a non-jargon filled fashion (like Mercantilism). By leaving out the unnecessary attacks and by improving his organization he could have cut the size of the book dramatically and still put in an explanatory appendix on basic economic ideas.
From 1880 to 1980, total public and private debt rarely exceeded 1.6X GDP; by 2008 it was 3.6X GDP. This massive growth was encouraged and made possible by the Federal Reserve, first under Alan Greenspan and now continuing with Ben Bernanke - digitally printing enormous amounts of money ($600 million/hour during Sept. 2008) to expand its balance sheet 6X to $3.2 trillion from $500 billion), lowering 'real' interest rates to below zero, deflecting efforts to address the 'Too Big to Fail' (TBTF) issue, endorsing a policy of spurring economic growth through the 'wealth effect' of rising stock prices (adding to its other goals of smoothing out the business cycle, minimizing inflation and unemployment, promoting home-ownership), supporting massive (and unnecessary bailouts), and institutionalizing the 'Greenspan put.'
Yet, during the 2000 - 2013 period, economic output grew by an average of 1.7%/year, the slowest since the Civil War, real business investment increased only 0.8%/year, and payroll job counts increased 0.1%/year. At the same time, the real new worth of the 'bottom' 90% has fallen one-fourth, the number of food stamp and disability aid recipients more than doubled. Thus, our Main Street economy is floundering while Washington piles soaring debt burdens on our descendants, unable to rein in either warfare or welfare states, or raise the taxes to pay our bills.
Stockman believes there never was even a remote threat of a Great Depression Redux - the Great Fear was purely a self-serving Wall Street concoction. The recent AIG bailout ($180 billion) was one of the most egregious examined by Stockman. He tells us its balance sheet at the time held $800 billion of mostly high-grade stocks/bonds, and its CD liabilities accounted for less than 10% of all liabilities. Congressional investigators found that the $400 billion (notational value) of busted CD insurance it underwrote was held by about 12 of the world's largest financial institutions, and virtually none by Main Street banks. The worst-case loss facing those giant institutions would have amounted to no more than a few month's bonus accruals against combined assets of $20 trillion, and each had the balance-sheet capacity to absorb an AIG hit. Goldman Sachs was the largest beneficiary paid full value (nearly $19 billion), $17 billion went to France's second largest bank, $15 billion to Deutsche Bank, $14 billion to Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, and nearly $10 billion to London-based Barclays.
Another rationale offered for bailing out AIG was to protect those individuals holding some of the $800 billion in insurance policies it held - first from a potential 'panic' run, and secondly from having those assets taken over by lawsuits over AIG's busted CD insurance. Stockman, however, says those assets would not have been subject to a 'panic' run, and policyholders were already protected by state insurance commission rules.
Bailing out the TBTF banks was rationalized as a means of protecting commercial, 'Main Street' banks. (I must admit to losing the chain of logic on this one.) Stockman, however, points out that those banks were mostly devoid of serious problems - their 4th quarter 2008 assets totaled $11.6 trillion, but only $200 billion (1.7%) were toxic. Commercial real estate loans accounted for most of the 500 bank closures conducted by the FDIC, and most of those loans were 'interest-only' with a 5 - 10 year maturity that would only have generated a slow bleed-off.
As for bailing out money market mutual funds, Stockman disagrees with that action also, pointing out that about half the $3.8 trillion was in funds exclusively invested in 'governments,' and they experienced no losses or liquidations. The other also held commercial paper, and during the several weeks after the Lehman failure about $430 billion 'fled,' triggered by one fund declaring it had 'broken the buck' because $750 million of its $60 billion assets was in Lehman paper (a loss of only 3%). Regardless, 85% of the flight money ($370 billion) simply moved to the 'government only' funds, and most of the remaining $60 billion went into CDs and other bank deposits, not under people's mattresses as feared.
G.E. was given $30 billion in taxpayer loans and guarantees to help it roll over its commercial paper and avoid the need to sell some assets at fire-sale prices or issue more stock. Again, unwarranted, per Stockman. Similarly with Goldman Sachs ($10 billion), which then generated $16 billion in salaries and bonuses atop $13 billion in net income for the year that began just 3 months later. Etc., etc. These bailouts rescued the perpetrators, but not the victims - per Stockman.
As for bailing out G.M. and Chrysler, Stockman contends those actions were also unnecessary - the jobs supposedly protected would simply have moved to existing plants in the Southeastern U.S. (Stockman also criticizes Romney for waffling on the topic, purportedly to help him win Ohio.)
Turning to the 'Greenspan/Bernanke Put,' Stockman recounts how Greenspan flooded Wall Street with money after the 10/1987 crash, and then the 1998 LTCM/Russian ruble collapse (LTCM had 30:1 leverage ratios). During the next 15 months, the S&P 500 rose 50% because Wall Street now believed errors would no longer be punished. Just before the dot-com bubble burst, the NASDAQ multiple reached a ridiculous P/E ratio of 100:1, about 6X its average historical level. Then, in response to a barely measurable GDP downturn in 2001, the Fed again flooded the market with more money - between early 2002 and mid-2005 the CPI increase averaged 2.5%/year, vs. short-term borrowings at 1.5%. Greenspan was now running a bubble machine; between 2002 and 2007, public and private debt grew $18 trillion, 5X the gain in GDP.
The Federal Reserve now holds up trillions of dollars worth of inflated asset prices via its destructive policies that it doesn't know how to unwind with creating another crash - domiciled in a monetary prison of its own making.
The bulk of 'The Great Deformation' is taken up with recounting how we got from the 'New Deal' to our current state of affairs.
Near the end, Stockman takes a few pages to also demolish a few currently popular myths, pointing out first that investors/entrepreneurs among the top 1% now have the lightest tax burden since Hoover and that the 2011 federal tax take of 15.2% GDP is as low as 1948 levels. He also contends there's not a bit of evidence to support the Laffer rationale for reducing current moderate marginal income tax rates, that half of personal consumption expenditure growth since 2007 has been funded by deficit-financed transfer payments - phony growth borrowed from future taxpayers. As for the supposed 'manufacturing Renaissance,' Stock says the real growth of manufacturing shipments from early fall 2000 to Sept. 2012 was only $200 billion in 2012 dollars, not the unadjusted $1.5 trillion commonly reported. All of 4%! Meanwhile, real defense goods growth in shipments increased 41% - obviously contributing significantly to the already anemic 4% total manufacturing growth, while producing nothing of economic value and creating new enemies.
As for Romney's 'business skills' - Stockman asserts Bain Capital garnered its winnings through leveraged speculation in financial markets perverted and deformed by money printing and Wall Street coddling. When he began in 1984, the S&P was at 160, and 1270 by early 1999. They were not rewards for capitalist creation, but mainly windfalls collected from gambling in markets rigged to rise. In fact, four of the ten Bain Capital home runs under Romney ended up in bankruptcy. Stockman makes this claim with confidence because he pursued this model as well.
Unfortunately, Stockman is not optimistic about the future. He sees CBO forecasts as overly rosy on wage and job growth, while also overestimating any decline in food stamps, unemployment, and other support programs. Our 2012 defense budget is 80% above Clinton's, in constant dollars, despite a 'peace' president. Meanwhile, the Fed has incited a global currency war. And then there's the matter of our skyrocketing health care costs.
The stock market is now where it was 13 years ago - meanwhile, we've only created 17,000 jobs/month vs. the 150,000 needed, we now have a cumulative current-account deficit of nearly $8 trillion, and the number of high-value jobs has shrunk.
Stockman predicts that within a few years the latest Wall Street bubble will explode, and the nation will enter an era of virulent political conflict, with no growth at all. His prescription - providing 100% public financing for candidates, limiting campaigns to eg. 8 weeks, a life prohibition on lobbying by anyone who has been on a legislative or executive branch payroll, restore and strengthen Glass-Steagall, abolish deposit insurance, impose a 30% tax on wealth, replace income taxes with consumption taxes, eliminate the massive bias in the tax doe for debt and capital gains, and mandating that Congress pass a balanced budget or face automatic sequester. Further, he would end the bailouts - much through Constitutional amendments.
Bottom-Line: Stockman's 'The Great Deformation' provides a lot of common sense, carefully analyzed facts, and a cold-dash of reality. Well worth reading.
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