Too big to fail banks are still a problem

by Glen Wallace

A decision needs to be made regarding financial institutions as to whether they are a capitalist private enterprise or a public utility — they shouldn’t try to be both at the same time.  Well, a bank can be both at the same time but we saw the consequences of attempting those dual roles in 2008.  I’m concerned though that the government regulators and politicians have not learned the valuable lessons of the great recession.  Instead there seems to continue to be an intermingling of poorly regulated or completely unregulated speculation on risky derivatives by the same financial institutions providing both needed business and personal lending, and also management of retirement and life savings of individual citizens.  If, say, the speculations on derivatives were to fail spectacularly, as they did for the failed financial institutions in 2008, would any jeopardizing of large bank standing on the losing end of those bets, amount to a corresponding jeopardization of the flow of lending capital keeping the business world running and the funds of savers entrusting their savings and investments in those jeopardized banks?  If so, then it seems that would be prudent to take measures to completely separate banks engaging in traditional lending and cautious, well regulated investing,  from investment banks that are willing to take on the risks associated with derivative trading.  A possible world needs to be envisioned where we imagine that a given bank fails, and decide whether letting it fail will jeopardize the entire economy of the country and therefore will need to be bailed out by the country or if it will be largely just a loss for the shareholders of the bank.  If it is the former, then either a separation of the risky investment banking element from the conservative traditional banking element needs to be done, or the bank needs to be broken up into smaller pieces in a manner similar to the actions by Teddy Roosevelt on Standard Oil Corporation.  We need to keep taking those measures until we wind up not having to bail out any financial institution, outside of insured deposits, regardless of the scenario.

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Michael Hudson, how do we extricate the economic parasites from the main street host?


Comment I posted following the above youtube video speech by economist Michael Hudson.

by Glen Wallace

I still have some questions.  I guess my main question, from which all my other questions or concerns regarding Michel Hudson’s philosophy, revolves around how to safely extricate the parasitic elements of FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) from the main street host.  I  say, the parasitic elements of FIRE, because I think it oversimplifies things to imply that all of FIRE is a parasitic malevolent force on society.  But reading and listening to Mr. Hudson, it isn’t entirely clear to me whether he thinks all of FIRE is parasitic or for what aspects are so, how do we go about the extrication process safely.  It would seem to me that we living in a much more complicated situation insofar the parasite and the host are sharing the same ‘blood supply’, so to speak.  Therefore, just yanking off the parasite could be very hazardous to the health of the host.  While the top 5 percent may own the bulk of stock equities, I think a lot more than 5 percent of the population own a significant amount of stocks, usually through their 401k’s or 403b’s and IRA’s.  So any actions that has knock-on effect of crashing the stock market and a lengthy trough could be financially devastating to much of the remaining middle class population.  While maybe the markets and the economy could have let Citibank fall, I’m not so sure about AIG.  While lending may be currently tight, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there is still a great deal of small business lending going on with banks and credit unions providing loans for businesses very frequently.   However, if that lending were to really dry up completely as we were warned could have happened if not for the infusion of stimulus cash into the economy soon after the fall of Lehman Brothers, then wouldn’t we be facing an economic crisis on a scale severe enough to lead to a civil emergency similar to a natural disaster?

Further complicating matters, isn’t that there is a legitimate element to each area of FIRE.  How are we going to, in any parasite extraction process, separate any legitimate actors from the malevolent ones?  I’m not saying it can’t be done, but we need to make sure we aren’t throwing the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.  To take an analogy from the movies that I think has some realistic relevance to main street finance — let’s make sure we don’t take measures that bring down the Bailey’s Savings and Loan of the world while trying to go after the Potter’s empire of the world, from the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.  And to take examples not from the movies but straight from today’s economic realities — in terms of a mass discharging of debt, that sounds nice for the students facing mounting student loans but it doesn’t sound so nice for the current and future retirees expecting municipalities and corporations to meet their highly underfunded pension debt obligations.

I don’t mean to be a naysayer but we need to come up with a plan where we have covered all the bases so that we can not only answer the tough questions, but also to get to where we are to trying to go.   Indeed, I’m concerned that if we were to implement a plan, for instance, that did crash the markets and dry up small business loans, then the parasitic malevolent elements would sweep in like the Potter character from the movie previously mentioned, and say to the effect “see, you were wrong all along, so from now on let me do the thinking and planning while I buy up all of your land and shares for pennies on the dollar.”

I have all sorts of ideas myself for how to go about the parasite extraction process.  I think Bernie Sanders has some good ideas that are a good start, but I think we can safely be a lot more aggressive with progressive reforms than even he is suggesting.  For instance, I haven’t heard Sanders even mention what I think we need to delve into and that is Federal asset taxes on corporations and the top one tenth of one percent of individuals.  That, and we need to access revenue from other novel sources as well such as a Wall Street high frequency trading machine transaction tax.  We can also get revenue from increased Tariffs and Excise taxes.  We should also be better leveraging revenue when natural resources are extracted from federal lands.  Personally I would rather Federal lands be preserved as much as possible in their natural state, but if it is already decided to sell some of the land’s resources, we might as well do so in a financially responsible manner.  So, instead of selling off the rights to all the timber in a tract of Federal land in a no-reserve auction, sell the timber for the going rate per board foot just as a private landowner would.  Additionally, the US Treasury could bypass the private Federal Reserve, and increase the money supply by minting more coins in larger denominations.  Then all this new revenue and money could be used towards instituting an FDR type of civilian conservation corp like program to rebuild our nations infrastructure.  Additionally we will be needing a lot of revenue if we are to have any chance of making up for the looming pension shortfalls that, if not remedied, will be hard on not only the pensioners, but also the overall economy due to the resultant lowering of aggregate demand from retirees have much less dollars to spend in their pockets.

Single payer government health care as an incentive to bold entrepreneurship

by Glen Wallace

From the perspective of what I like to call ‘applied social political philosophy’, I prefer to bypass the whole debate about whether health care is a privilege or a right that the state is obligated to provide. Instead, I ask the question, is a society that provides universal health care coverage achieving an ideal compared to a society that doesn’t? Can that ideal be practically achieved using a reasonable level of human and material resources? If the answer to those two questions is ‘yes’, then proceed with taking steps towards the state providing universal coverage. If there isn’t yet sufficient support from the constituents for such coverage, then proceed with arguments and facts to sway them otherwise.

Regarding any counter arguments about government coverage leading to complacency, I think the facts and reasons point in the opposite direction. If memory serves me correctly, I believe I read a statistic that European nations are greatly outpacing the U.S. in rates of business startups. And given that universal single payer coverage is much more common in Europe, it would stand to reason that that difference is a fundamental reason for Europe besting the U.S. in such bootstrapping. That’s because here in America, the worker is much too dependent on their employer for health care coverage and thus discouraged from even dipping their feet into the business startup waters.

Compare the American worker with dreams of starting their own business but are wary of leaving their employer with its comfortable health insurance coverage with the Scandinavian worker who knows they and their family would be assured of health care coverage whether their business startup idea works or not. Our system of private insurance, generally provided through employment, acts as a disincentive to bold entrepreneurship. Conversely, a single payer universal coverage system, by limiting risk, would act as an incentive to the sorts of bold bootstrapping that built the United States business empire — an empire that is now showing signs of flagging compared with the rest of the developed word that wisely provides universal healthcare coverage.

VA problems are no reason to abandon single payer idea

by Glen Wallace

 

While some may like to point out how the VA has supposedly done such a bad job, as a reason why the government shouldn’t take over health care, they are ignoring some important counter arguments or reasons supporting government takeover.  For one, the negative accounts about the VA that people tend to refer to, are to a large extent brought to you by private, for profit, news media that gets a substantial portion of ad revenue from private insurers that have a vested interest in retaining the private health insurance system.  As a result I believe the private news programs are highlighting, focusing and magnifying the VA’s problems, while largely ignoring similar issues and problems that plague the private health insurance system.  One need only look at the online reviews of private insurers to find a plethora of examples that make those insurer’s look even worse than the VA.  And if a single payer system were implemented, then it would be more of an expansion of Medicare than an expansion of the the VA.

 

Before Obamacare was implemented, while listening to an NPR feature about individuals having problems with private insurers, if I remember correctly, I believe they quoted a statistic that two thirds of all individuals that declare medical bankruptcy, already had health insurance at the time of their bankruptcy.  And the reasons for such bankruptcies wasn’t just due to high deductibles, many were the result of disagreements between insurers and providers about what procedures are, or should have been covered.  As a result, a patient ends up being responsible for for medical bills they thought were covered.  Sometimes the patients can end up getting such bills lowered or covered by the insurer, but getting to that point often turns into a full time job for the patient in the form of phone calls, and negotiations with a hospital and insurer.  Hearing such stories one has to wonder “There has to be a better way!”  Well there is a better way and there also is no need to reinvent the wheel — that better way is already being used successfully in most of Europe in the form of a government run single payer health care system.

Wealth Redistribution to Lift All Boats

by Glen Wallace

The dwindling middle class indicates that the only boats rising are yachts sitting in the torpid pools of wealth amassed by the capitalist sharks. Meanwhile, the middle class tributaries are running bone dry, leaving the middle class row boats sitting on dust. Therefore, the only logical solution is to install pumps in the form of asset taxes into those stagnant wealth pools to insure that the wealth gets rerouted and redistributed back into those tributaries. Trickle down economics has been proven false time and again. However, getting money into the hands of those who will in turn put those funds back into circulation by spending it, the middle class, has been shown to have a tremendous positive knock-on effect throughout the overall economy. But to keep the economy booming you need to keep those tax pumps going to insure money doesn’t start stagnating again and rotting in those torpid wealth pools.

Everything is pointing to Hayek being completely wrong — in fact he had everything backwards. Instead of a free-market being the road to freedom, it turns out that the term ‘free-markets’ is just a rebranding of the term ‘laissez faire’. And laissez faire has always been and always will be the direct route to serfdom — and with the struggling middle class we are seeing that first hand in the form of the handywork of Hayek’s intellectual descendants, the Chicago School of economics. And despite the clear evidence that the Chicago school’s laissez faire or freemarket methods of hands-off through repeal of Glass-Steagall and lack of oversight and control of the derivatives market lead directly to the great recession, there has been little corresponding acknowledgment or recognition of the evident refutation of the Chicago School’s economic paradigm.

We can get the middle class back on its feet again, but we need judicious government oversight and regulation along with a good amount of wealth redistribution. One excellent means of redistributing the wealth would be through programs similar to FDR’s programs involving the Civilian Conservation Corp. A massive government program to repair, rebuild and reinforce our nations infrastructure would go a long ways towards getting money back into the economy and refresh and enhance the conduits of commerce. It would be a win win for everyone, including the much more heavily taxed very wealthy who didn’t even know what to do with all that they had, but with such a program, could be proud that their tax dollars were put to such good use; rebuilding a great America.