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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Too Big To Fail: The U.S. Is Still at Risk

On March 20, 2013, more than two years after the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation had become law, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke made it clear that the problem of too-big-to-fail banks had not been solved. “Too Big To Fail is not solved and gone,” he said in a press conference. “It’s still here.”[1] That is, providing an orderly liquidation process for bankrupt banks would be insufficient in keeping the U.S. economy free of vulnerability from even one of the biggest banks taking down the financial sector merely by going bankrupt. Congress should not have missed or minimized this point while working on the Dodd-Frank Act. The self-interested power of Wall Street in Washington and the need of campaign funds in Congress coalesced to dilute the law in spite of the detriment to the public good.

The full essay is at "Too Big to Fail."

1. Mark Gongloff, “Ben Bernanke: ‘I Agree With ElizabethWarren100 Percent’ On Too Big To Fail,” The Huffington Post, March 20, 2013.

Behind Corporate Loopholes: Wealth and Power

A company in the U.S. wants a tax loophole to apply. Starbucks, for example, wanted to be able to use the manufacturing deduction by stretching manufacturing to include the roasting of coffee beans. So in 2004 the company hired Michael Evans, a lobbyist at K&L Gates who had just a year before worked as a top lawyer on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, which writes tax law. Evans was able to urge his former colleagues in the Senate to expand the definition of manufacturing to include roasting in a clause added to a 243-page tax bill called the American Jobs Creation Act.  As you might imagine, Starbucks was not the only company to get a tax break written into that law. By 2013, the manufacturing deduction had saved Starbucks $88 million that the company would otherwise have had to pay in corporate income tax. In 2012, corporate tax breaks and loopholes added $150 billion in lost revenue for the federal government, increasing the budget deficit by that amount.[1] Three lessons can be gleamed from the hidden corporate loopholes.

The full essay is at "Behind Corporate Loopholes." 
1 Ben Hallman and Chris Kirkham, “As Obama Confronts Corporate Tax Reform, Past Lessons Suggest Lobbyists Will Fight For Loopholes,” The Huffington Post, February 15, 2013.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Regulating Wall Street after a Financial Crisis

On Columbus Day 2011, The New York Times observed that the regulations known as the Volcker rule, “intended to limit trading when the bank's money is at risk, a sweet spot for banks, is seen as a centerpiece of the sprawling financial overhaul of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. In anticipation, the nation's biggest banks, like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have already shut down their stand-alone proprietary trading desks.”[1] Even so, the long and tortuous route by which any regulation is written was leaving its own mark in the sense that promising loopholes were finding their way into the rule. In other words, the regulated would have a disproportionate influence on the writing of the regulations. This conflict of interest is dangerous from the standpoint of not being vulnerable to another financial crisis in which the greed on Wall Street knows no bounds. 

Morgan Stanley: Systemic Mistrust or Bad Financials after the Financial Crisis?

"Morgan Stanley by any measure is a safe and solid investment bank. Except for one: The amount of trust people have in the whole financial and political system. It's just about zero,” according to Jesse Eisinger of The New York Times in October 2011.[1] Even as there is undoubtedly an element of hyperbole in his conclusion—for zero trust in the financial system and governments would occasion far greater problems than the world faced at the time of Eisinger’s report—his broader point that bankers would be held accountable one way or the other for not having learned their lesson on derivatives (and risk more generally) is valid. The subtext is that even though banks like Morgan Stanley were in actuality in solid financial shape, they deserved the negative repercussions from the systemic skepticism that the banks themselves brought about by virtually ignoring risk analysis in preference to a run of profits and (not coincidentally) bonuses.

The full essay is at "Morgan Stanley after the Financial Crisis."

1. Jesse Eisinger, “Between the Lines, Wall St. Banks Face a Deficit of Trust,” The New York Times, October 12, 2011. 

The Fire in Notre Dame Cathedral during Holy Week: Divine Retribution?

Just in terms of how the business and political elites reacted to the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the want of a distinctly religious explanation reflected the hegemony of the secular culture in the E.U. at the time. How the incident, which occurred on April 15, 2019, might fit into an established religious narrative was largely ignored, at least by the media reporting on the fire and its aftermath. Instead, the focus was on the impact on French politics and the donations being made to repair the damage. In particular, the matter of billionaires donating a hundred or two hundred euros fueled a debate on the morality of giving so much when giving to the poor could ease economic inequality, rather than on the religious legitimacy of being rich even with the good use in rebuilding a cathedral. The media at least was silent on the question of whether God had exacted divine retribution against the Roman Catholic Church for having pedophile priests and high-ranked clerics covering them up to safeguard the reputation of the universal Church. That the fire occurred during Holy Week makes the lack of any application of the faith narratives particularly striking, for what if a fire in a gem of the Roman Catholic Church during Holy Week was aimed at getting the attention of the clergy and laity?

The full essay is at "The Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral."