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Friday, December 1, 2017

Rolling the Dice: The E.U.’s Financial Regulatory Agency (the ESMA)

Even though the European financial sector integrated significantly during the first decade of the twenty-first century, the E.U. Government’s regulatory infrastructure and content did not keep up. As in the U.S. until 1933, state regulation carried the bulk of the weight. As the twenty-first century notably differs from the nineteenth, the relatively integrated financial sector in the E.U. means more risk is entailed in continuing to rely on state regulators. This is not good news for David Cameron, who in late 2011 tried and failed at a European Council meeting to hold strengthened enforcement of state-deficit limits hostage by demanding protection for state-level financial regulation over federal regulation. Like South Carolina was in the nineteenth century, United Kingdom was decidedly in the states’ rights camp as late as a decade into the twenty-first.

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon. 

A Structural Conflict of Interest in Deutche Bank: Beyond Proprietary Holdings

While creating and selling mortgage-based securities to some of its clients, Deutsche Bank AG was not only advising other clients to bet the other way, but also sometimes doing it itself, according to the Wall Street Journal. A trader at the bank would help create an index that made it easy for the bank to bet against housing even as sales people at the bank were selling the securities as if there were no downside to the American housing market. Then some of the tax-payer money was paid by the US Government to AIG to reimburse Deutsche’s hedge-fund clients who had bought the mortgage securities. American regulators looked at whether there were misrepresentations made to the hedge fund managers who bought the mortgage-backed securities even as Deutsche Bank was betting against the housing market.

The full essay is at Institutional Conflicts of Interest, available at Amazon.

ECB Loans: A Backdoor Bailout?

On December 8, 2011, the ECB announced that it would loan 489.2 billion euros (c. $640 billion) at 1% interest to 523 E.U. banks for a three-year term. Carl Weinberg, chief economist at a consulting firm, said that by making the move, the ECB had “shown a path toward averting catastrophic collapse in Europe.” The move has been likened to that of the Federal Reserve after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. It was hoped that the E.U. banks would use the money to buy state bonds—particularly those of Spain and Italy, which were not able to “directly tap” ECB funds. According to Investor’s Business Daily, however, early signs pointed to bank declining to purchase the riskier debt. While understandable given Angela Merkel’s objections to the ECB serving as a backdoor bailout of profligate states over their heads in debt, the ECB’s refusal to put conditions on how the loans could be used may have undercut the central bank’s effort to relieve bank liquidity (and state debt) problems in the E.U.

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Democracy Deficit in the E.U.’s State-Rights Federalism: The Debt Crisis

Holding back additional transfers of governmental sovereignty from the state legislatures to the E.U.’s legislative chambers not only inevitably pushes power to non-democratic E.U.-level  institutions, notably the ECB; the democratic basis even at the state level can be compromised.

The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.

Carbon-Dioxide Emissions amid Global Warming: A Species’ Death-Wish

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning rose 5.9 percent in 2010, the largest amount on record, according to an analysis released in early December, 2011 by the Global Carbon Project. According to the analysis as reported by the New York Times, “the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.” 

The full essay is at "Carbon Emissions: A Species' Death-Wish."

Other Priorities and Side-Shows Eclipsing a Historical Debate on the U.S. Government's Deficits and Debt

Writing in November of 2010, Fareed Zakaria opined that the “fate of the U.S.” would be decided “over the next year.” In truth, the fates may have pronounced their verdict on the “city on the hill” long before the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Denial can be a strong palliative in the midst of a pattern of sustained lapses in self-disciple and civic virtue—qualities that the American Founding Fathers had presumed are necessary to any viable republic.

The full essay is at "Other Priorities."

TARP Paid Off: But What about the Foreclosures?

TARP, the "bailout" for banks rather than mortgage borrowers, was the first big issue facing the Obama administration before the roughly $800 billion stimulus plan and the health insurance overhaul that stoked the rise of the Tea Party movement. After supporting TARP, several Republicans lost in the elections of 2010 largely because of their votes. For many Americans, TARP is a symbol of big government at its worst, intervening in private markets with taxpayers’ billions to save Wall Street plutocrats while average Americans continued to struggle to make mortgage payments or lost their houses outright.  “This is the best federal program of any real size to be despised by the public like this,” said Douglas J. Elliott, a former investment banker now associated with the Brookings Institution. “It was probably the only effective method available to us to keep from having a financial meltdown much worse than we actually had. Had that happened, unemployment would be substantially higher than it is now, the deficit would have gone up even more than it has,” Mr. Elliott added. “But it really cuts against the grain for a public that is so angry at banks to think that something that so plainly helped the banks could also be good for the public.” TARP was good for the public not in that the funds enabled Wall Street bonuses; rather, the good was solely on the macro level, as the frozen credit markets eventually thawed such that the financial system meltdown was averted.  However, this does not mean that it was "the only effective method available."

The full essay is at "TARP and Foreclosures."

Political Risk Exaggerated on Catexit

On the day the Catalan parliament voted in favor of “Catexit” from Spain, the IBEX-35 stock-market index dropped 1.4 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 gained 0.3 percent.[1] The IBEX-35 is an stock-index of companies based in Spain. Investors also sold state bonds; yields on 10-year bonds rose to 1.574% from 1.558. Even though these changes were hardly earth-shattering in magnitude, their directionality points to investor-anxiety. I submit that it was overblown, which suggests that investors generally tend to over-react to political events.

The full essay is at "Catexit: Political Risk."

[1] Jon Sindreu, “Stocks, Bonds Hit by Political Unrest,” The Wall Street Journal, October 28-29, 2017.

California’s Turnaround in 2013: Brown’s Budget Surpluses

By early 2013, California had turned the corner from deficits—$9 billion in 2011 and $25 billion in 2010—to anticipated surpluses—$785 million for the fiscal year ending June 2013 and $851 million in the year thereafter. The lack of balance between billions and millions suggests that Keynesian economics may contain a fundamental imbalance in favor of consumption, at least in a democratic context. The prudent proposals by Jerry Brown, California’s head of state and chief executive, point to the ability of a republic to responsibly manage its fiscal business even within the overall imbalance.
The full essay is at "California's Turnaround."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Partisan Journalism: A Canary in a Republic's Coal Mine?

Did Roger Ailes go against the profit-default in corporate governance in wanting to use Fox News to elect a U.S. president? Must stockholders privilege an economic objective in the use of their collective wealth? In terms of journalistic ethics, does a partisan media leave the self-governing American people (and their republics) unknowingly compromised from within? 

Sustenance: A Human Right in America?

In the fall of 2010, the following was said on Fox News: “The government should spend more on the war in Afghanistan in order to fight terrorism. The problem is that the government has gotten into entitlements.”  The latter presumably includes food stamps, public housing, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  To say that government ought to be engaged in defense and not in supplying needy citizens with food, shelter and health-care is distinct from saying that the federal government should concentrate on foreign policy and defense, while entitlements are formulated and funded by the state governments as their domestic programs. In other words, advocacy for a certain priority in government and for less government is distinct from advocacy for restoring balanced federalism. Most Europeans in the E.U. undoubtedly view the redistributive right for sustenance resources as founded on human rights and thus as a legitimate part of government.  In contrast, Americans do not typically apply a human rights justification to entitlements for other Americans even as foreign aid may be justified in part on this basis.

Customers Give Uber a Pass: A Lapsed Enforcement of Business Ethics

A letter from a former security employee at Uber claims that the company’s Marketplace Analytics department “exists expressly for the purpose of acquiring trade secrets, codebase and competitive intelligence.”[1] The letter caused the judge to delay the trial in which Uber stood accused of stealing trade secrets involving self-driving cars from Waymo. “I can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber in this case,” Judge Alsup said.[2] Ouch! The question remained whether Uber customers would punish the company by turning to Lyft instead. Unfortunately, the typical customer may overlook unethical practices at a company if a good deal is to be had. Economizing monetarily serves self-interest, whereas “walking with your wallet” oftentimes does not. Standing on principle may simply not register when people have their consumer hats on.

The full essay is at "Consumer Enforcement of Business Ethics."


Monday, November 27, 2017

Christian Leadership Navigating Geopolitics: Pope Francis in Myanmar amid Ethnic Cleansing

With the U.N. having “denounced the murder, rape and pillaging of the Rohingya in western Myanmar as ethnic cleansing,” Pope Francis had to “strike a careful balance” during his visit to the country in late 2017 “by maintaining his moral authority without endangering his tiny local flock.[1] Even the decision to meet first with Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander of the military that had “driven more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country” could be taken as a compromise of the Pope’s moral authority because Francis would met with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of the government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the next day.[2] That the local Cardinal had urged the Pope not to even use the word Rohingya during the visit pointed in the direction away from the Pope acting as a moral compass and thus to a hit to his reputation as a leader of principle rather than expediency.

The full essay is at "Pope Francis as a Christian Leader."

1. Jason Horowitz, “Pope Francis Arrives in a Myanmar Tarnished by Rohingya Crackdown,” The New York Times, November 27, 2017.
2. Ibid.