Monday, March 12, 2012

407 STIGLITZ: We Have To Throw Bankers In Jail

STIGLITZ: We Have To Throw Bankers In Jail

(1) QE: the US is now doing unto others as others have long done unto the US
(2) China says the US, via the Fed, is engaged in the same thing that it stands accused of
(3) Government should set up a national investment bank - Robert Skidelsky
(4) Creative Accounting allowed China to Bury its Debt and Forge Ahead with Stimulus - Ellen Brown
(5) STIGLITZ: We Have To Throw Bankers In Jail Or The Economy Won't Recover
(6) Bank ripoffs: Australians need NOT "more competition" BUT "less debt" - Steve Keen
(7) $'s loss of Reserve status will break the Empire - Paul Craig Roberts

(1) QE: the US is now doing unto others as others have long done unto the US

From: John Craig <john.cpds@gmail.com> Date: 08.11.2010 10:53 AM

> Banks are using QE not build US economy,
> but to lend to speculators buying overseas assets

What a surprise – see Currency War? <http://cpds.apana.org.au/Teams/Articles/globalization.htm#CurrencyWar>

As Peter Morici suggests, the US is now doing unto others as others have long done unto the US.
http://www.enterstageright.com/archive/articles/1110/1110g20hyp.htm

(2) China says the US, via the Fed, is engaged in the same thing that it stands accused of

 http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6A00U420101108

Obama returns fire after China slams Fed's move

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama defended the Federal Reserve's policy of printing dollars on Monday after China and Russia stepped up criticism ahead of this week's Group of 20 meeting.

By Patricia Zengerle and Krittivas Mukherjee

NEW DELHI | Mon Nov 8, 2010 10:27am EST

... Washington has frequently criticized China, saying it deliberately undervalues its currency to boost exports.

China says the United States, via the Fed, is engaged in the same thing that it stands accused of, and some emerging nations have already acted to curb their currencies' rise.

Resentment abroad stems from worry that Fed pump-priming will hasten the U.S. dollar's slide and cause their currencies to shoot up in value, setting the stage for asset bubbles and making a future burst of inflation more likely. ...

QE2 and G20 hypocrisy

By Peter Morici
web posted November 8, 2010

As President Obama heads for the G20, Germany and others cry foul about U.S. Quantitative Easing—QE2 in popular jargon.

Seldom has the G20 been treated to such hypocrisy.

November 3, the Federal Reserve announced plans to purchase $600 billion in U.S. Treasury securities. Pushing liquidity into bond markets will lower interest rates on mortgages and business loans, and hopefully boost demand for U.S. goods and lower unemployment.

Since 1995, China has done the same on a grander scale. To keep its currency about 40 percent below its market value against the dollar, it prints yuan to purchase dollars, and then purchases U.S. Treasuries. That makes Chinese exports artificially cheap, and powers a huge trade surplus and 10 percent economic growth.

Inexpensive Chinese goods at Wal-Mart come at a steep, hidden cost. Those destroy U.S. factory jobs that are not replaced by new employment to make exports.

At the October IMF meetings, Germany and Japan rebuked U.S. requests for help in persuading China to stop intervening in currency markets. That was hardly surprising, as both profit from currency mercantilism too.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Bank of Japan intervened in currency markets to keep the yen, and auto exports, artificially cheap. Subsequently, it imposed near zero interest rates, and encouraged private investors to borrow yen, convert those to dollars and then purchase higher yielding U.S. Treasuries—a disguised variant of China's manipulation.

After the Federal Reserve moved to near zero rates, too, Japan made clear that it will intervene in currency markets should the yen fall too far, spooking speculators from betting on yen appreciation.

The German scheme is more complex.

Exchange rates translate the whole register of prices for goods and services in each country into the dollar, which is the international yardstick for pricing products and debt.

Germany is in the euro-zone with Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, whose economies are less efficient than Germany and sovereign debt is suspect. The risk one of their governments will default pulls down the value of the euro.

Were the Euro zone to split up, the value of the new deutschemark—and resulting dollar prices for German products on world markets—would be much higher than the current euro-dollar rate implies. Conversely, dollar prices for the new currencies of Greece and others would be much lower, and competitiveness of their products much stronger on world markets, than the current euro-dollar rate indicates.

The euro-zone permits Germany a de facto undervalued currency and huge trade surplus, and to lecture Mediterranean nations and the United States about the virtues of Teutonic thrift. Meanwhile, weaker euro-zone economies labor under de facto overvalued currencies and punitive austerity.

U.S. consumers and businesses are spending again but too much goes into imports instead of creating American jobs. Since the recovery began, the combined U.S. trade deficits with China, Japan and Germany is up 127 billion and now totals $448 billion.

With the Gang of Three stonewalling on currency talks, the U.S. economy is growing well below potential and unemployment hovers near 10 percent. Now, the United States has resorted to QE2.

The United States should tax purchases of yen, yuan and euro used to import goods from those three economies. Set it at about 40 percent until the Gang of Three agrees to acceptable exchange rate reforms.

At a recent dinner for western financial ministers, Secretary Geithner was told the Americans don't matter anymore.

Such a tax would inspire a different tune — perhaps, "God Bless America" — and a pilgrimage to Washington to strike a deal. 

Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

(3) Government should set up a national investment bank - Robert Skidelsky

House of Lords Debate: Comprehensive Spending Review

Robert Skidelsky

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 01:37 AM PDT

http://www.skidelskyr.com/site/article/house-of-lords-debate-comprehensive-spending-review

... The failure of quantitative easing should come as no surprise to a Keynesian. As Keynes said, if money is the drink which stimulates the system to activity, "there's many a slip twixt cup and lip".

Quantitative easing is simply the expression of the monetarist view that, if you increase liquidity, money GDP will rise proportionately after a short lag. However, it is not the printing of money that causes GDP to rise but the spending of money, and the spending of money depends not on the quantity of bank reserves but on the willingness of the private sector to borrow and the willingness of banks to lend at rates of interest at which they can borrow. However many trillions of dollars or pounds Governments pump into the economy, this will not stimulate borrowing or lending if consumer demand is not there.

Ministers are constantly exhorting banks to lend. Banks say that there are no borrowers, by which they mean borrowers at the going interest rate. However, here is a suggestion for overcoming this blockage which is consistent with the deficit reduction programme. The Government should set up a national investment bank, which they would capitalise and mandate to spend £X billion a year on investment projects at interest rates low enough to fulfil the investment mandate. We are already promised a tiny prototype of this in the proposed green investment bank. Candidates for such investment would be infrastructure projects such as the high-speed rail link mentioned by the noble Lord, road building and repairs, house construction by local authorities, or projects to do with carbon emissions - insulating houses, solar panels and so forth. Lending by the investment bank would not affect the deficit and so would not spoil Mr Osborne's austerity story. True enough, subsidised interest rates imply a lower expected return on equity than from current lending, but a lower return is still better than no return, which is what idle capital now earns.

There may be better ways but the goal is clear: to unblock the channel of spending when orthodox fiscal and monetary policy is, for one reason or another, disabled. Unless we succeed in doing that, we will be doomed to years of interminable recession.

(4) Creative Accounting allowed China to Bury its Debt and Forge Ahead with Stimulus - Ellen Brown

From: Ellen Brown <ellenhbrown@gmail.com> Date: 31.10.2010 03:17 PM

China's Creative Accounting: How It Buried Its Debt and Forged Ahead with Stimulus

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-brown/chinas-creative-accountan_b_775531.html

OCTOBER 30, 2010

China may be as heavily in debt as we are. It just has a different way of keeping its books -- which makes a high-profile political ad sponsored by Citizens Against Government Waste, a fiscally conservative think tank, particularly ironic. Set in a lecture hall in China in 2030, the controversial ad shows a Chinese professor lecturing on the fall of empires: Greece, Rome, Great Britain, the United States:

They all make the same mistakes. Turning their backs on the principles that made them great. America tried to spend and tax itself out of a great recession. Enormous so-called stimulus spending, massive changes to health care, government takeover of private industries, and crushing debt.

Of course, he says, because the Chinese owned the debt, they are now masters of the Americans. The students laugh. The ad concludes, "You can change the future. You have to."

James Fallows, writing in the Atlantic, remarks <http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/the-phenomenal-chinese-professor-ad/64982/>:

The ad has the Chinese official saying that America collapsed because, in the midst of a recession, it relied on (a) government stimulus spending, (b) big changes in its health care systems, and (c) public intervention in major industries -- all of which of course, have been crucial parts of China's (successful) anti-recession policy.

That is one anomaly. Another is that China has managed to keep its debt remarkably low despite decades of massive government spending. According to the IMF, China's cumulative gross debt is only about 22% of 2010 GDP, compared to a U.S. gross debt that is 94% of 2010 GDP.

What is China's secret? According to financial commentator Jim Jubak, it may just be "creative accounting" -- the sort of accounting for which Wall Street is notorious, in which debts are swept off the books and turned into "assets." China is able to pull this off because it does not owe its debts to foreign creditors. The banks doing the funding are state-owned, and the state can write off its own debts.

Jubak observes:

China has a history of taking debt off its books and burying it, which should prompt us to poke and prod its numbers. If we go back to the last time China cooked the national books big time, during the Asian currency crisis of 1997, we can get an idea of where its debt might be hidden now.

The majority of bank loans, says Jubak, went to state-owned companies -- about 70% of the total. The collapse of China's export trade following the crisis meant that its banks were suddenly sitting on billions in debts that were clearly never going to be paid. But that was when China's largest banks were trying to raise capital by selling stock in Hong Kong and New York, and no bank could go public with that much bad debt on its books.

The creative solution? The Beijing government set up special-purpose asset management companies for the four largest state-owned banks, the equivalent of the "special purpose vehicles" designed by Wall Street to funnel real estate loans off U.S. bank books. The Chinese entities ultimately bought $287 billion in bad loans from state-owned banks. To pay for the loans, they issued bonds to the banks, on which they paid interest. The state-owned banks thus got $287 billion in toxic debt off their books and turned the bad loans into an income stream from the bonds.

Sound familiar? Wall Street did the same thing in the 2008 bailout, with the U.S. government underwriting the deal. The difference was that China's largest banks were owned by the government, so the government rather than a private banking cartel got the benefit of the arrangement. According to British economist Samah El-Shahat, writing in Al Jazeera in August 2009:

China hasn't allowed its banking sector to become so powerful, so influential, and so big that it can call the shots or highjack the bailout. In simple terms, the government preferred to answer to its people and put their interests first before that of any vested interest or group. And that is why Chinese banks are lending to the people and their businesses in record numbers.

In the US and UK, by contrast:

banks have captured all the money from the taxpayers and the cheap money from quantitative easing from central banks. They are using it to shore up, and clean up their balance sheets rather than lend it to the people. The money has been hijacked by the banks, and our governments are doing absolutely nothing about that. In fact, they have been complicit in allowing this to happen.

Today, Jubak continues, China's debt problem is the thousands of investment companies set up by local governments to borrow money from banks and lend it to local companies, a policy that has produced thousands of jobs but has left an off-balance-sheet debt overhang. He cites economist Victor Shih, who says local-government investment companies had a total of $1.7 trillion in outstanding debt at the end of 2009, or about 35% of China's GDP. Banks have extended $1.9 trillion in credit lines to local investment companies on top of that. Collectively, the debt plus the credit lines come to $3.8 trillion. That is about 75% of China's GDP, which is proportionately quite a bit smaller than U.S. GDP. None of this is included in the IMF's calculation of a gross-debt-to-GDP figure of 22%, says Shih. If it were, the number would be closer to 100% of GDP.

Proportionately, then, China may be more heavily in debt than we are. Yet it is still managing to invest heavily in infrastructure, local businesses and local jobs. Its creative accounting scheme seems to be working for the Chinese. It may be sleight of hand, but it was a necessary ploy to harmonize their economic realities with Western banking standards.

For China to join the World Trade Organization in 2001, it had to revise its accounting methods to conform to Western requirements; but before it joined, it did not consider grants to its state-owned enterprises to be "non-performing loans." They were what the IMF calls "contingent grants." If they paid off, great; if they didn't, they were written off. There were no creditors demanding payment from the state-owned banks. The creditor was the state; and the state, at least in theory, was the people. In any case, the state owned the banks. It was lending to itself, and it could write off its loans at will. It was better to sweep the "NPLs" into "SPVs" than to cut back on services and impose heavier taxes on the people. The Chinese government did cut back on services and raise taxes, to the detriment of the struggling masses, but not to the extent that would otherwise have been necessary to balance their books by Western standards.

While the rest of the world suffers from an unrelenting credit crunch, China's banks today are on a lending binge. The rush to make new loans is a direct response to the government's economic stimulus policy, which emphasizes infrastructure and internal development. The Chinese government was able to get its banks to open their lending windows when U.S. banks were being tight-fisted with their funds, because the government owns the banks. The Chinese banking system has been partially privatized, but the government is still the controlling shareholder of the Big Four commercial banks, which were split off from the People's Bank of China in the 1980s.

We might take a lesson from the Chinese and put our own banks to work for the people, rather than making the people work for the banks. We need to get our dollars out of Wall Street and back on Main Street, and we can do that only by breaking up Wall Street's out-of-control private banking monopoly and returning control over money and credit to the people themselves.

We could also take a lesson from the Chinese and dispose of our debt with a little creative accounting: when the bonds come due, we could pay them with dollars issued by the Treasury, in the same way that the Federal Reserve has issued Federal Reserve Notes to save Wall Street with its "Quantitative Easing" program. The mechanics of that process were revealed in a remarkable segment on National Public Radio on August 26, 2010, describing how a team of Fed employees bought $1.25 trillion in mortgage bonds beginning in late 2008. According to NPR:

The Fed was able to spend so much money so quickly because it has a unique power: It can create money out of thin air, whenever it decides to do so. So... the mortgage team would decide to buy a bond, they'd push a button on the computer -- "and voila, money is created."

If the Fed can do it to save the banks, the Treasury can do it to save the taxpayers. In a paper presented at the American Monetary Institute in September 2010, Prof. Kaoru Yamaguchi showed with sophisticated mathematical models that if done right, paying off the federal debt with debt-free Treasury notes would have a beneficial stimulatory effect on the economy without inflating prices.

The CAGW ad is correct: we have turned our backs on the principles that made us great. But those principles are not rooted in "fiscal austerity." The abundance that made the American colonies great stemmed from a monetary system in which the government had the power to issue its own money - unlike today, when the only money the government issues are coins. Dollar bills are issued by the Federal Reserve, a privately owned central bank; and the government has to borrow them like everyone else. But as Thomas Edison famously said:

If the Nation can issue a dollar bond it can issue a dollar bill. The element that makes the bond good makes the bill good also. The difference between the bond and the bill is that the bond lets the money broker collect twice the amount of the bond and an additional 20%... It is a terrible situation when the Government, to insure the National Wealth, must go in debt and submit to ruinous interest charges at the hands of men who control the fictitious value of gold.

China's government can direct its banks to advance credit in the national currency as needed, because it owns the banks. Ironically, the Chinese evidently got that idea from us. Sun Yat-sen was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, who avoided a crippling national debt by issuing debt-free Treasury notes during the Civil War; and Lincoln was following the lead of the American colonists, our forebears. We need to reclaim our sovereign right to fund the common wealth without getting entangled in debt to foreign creditors, through the use of our own government-issued currency and publicly-owned banks.

(5) STIGLITZ: We Have To Throw Bankers In Jail Or The Economy Won't Recover

From: Denver Media Service <ron@denvermediaservice.com> Date: 07.11.2010 07:54 PM

George Washington, Washington's Blog  |  Nov. 4, 2010

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2010/11/another-nobel-economist-says-we-have-to.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/nobel-economist-says-we-have-to-prosecute-fraud-or-else-the-economy-wont-recover-2010-11

As economists such as William Black and James Galbraith have repeatedly said, we cannot solve the economic crisis unless we throw the criminals who committed fraud in jail.

And Nobel prize winning economist George Akerlof has demonstrated that failure to punish white collar criminals – and instead bailing them out- creates incentives for more economic crimes and further destruction of the economy in the future. See this, this and this.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz just agreed. As Stiglitz told Yahoo's Daily Finance on October 20th:

This is a really important point to understand from the point of view of our society. The legal system is supposed to be the codification of our norms and beliefs, things that we need to make our system work. If the legal system is seen as exploitative, then confidence in our whole system starts eroding. And that's really the problem that's going on.  ***

A lot of the predatory practices in automobile loans are going to be able to be continued. Why is it OK to engage in bad lending in automobiles and not in the mortgage market? Is there any principle? We all know the answer to that. No, there's no principle. It's money. It's campaign contributions, lobbying, revolving door, all of those kinds of things  ***

The system is designed to actually encourage that kind of thing, even with the fines [referring to former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozillo, who recently paid tens of millions of dollars in fines, a small fraction of what he actually earned, because he earned hundreds of millions.].   ***

I know so many people who say it's an outrage that we had more accountability in the '80's with the S&L crisis than we are having today. Yeah, we fine them, and what is the big lesson? Behave badly, and the government might take 5% or 10% of what you got in your ill-gotten gains, but you're still sitting home pretty with your several hundred million dollars that you have left over after paying fines that look very large by ordinary standards but look small compared to the amount that you've been able to cash in.

So the system is set so that even if you're caught, the penalty is just a small number relative to what you walk home with.

The fine is just a cost of doing business. It's like a parking fine. Sometimes you make a decision to park knowing that you might get a fine because going around the corner to the parking lot takes you too much time.  ***

  I think we ought to go do what we did in the S&L [crisis] and actually put many of these guys in prison. Absolutely. These are not just white-collar crimes or little accidents. There were victims. That's the point. There were victims all over the world.  ***

So do we have any confidence that these guys who got us into the mess have really changed their minds? Actually we have pretty [good] confidence that they have not. I've seen some speeches where they said, "Nothing was really wrong. We didn't get things quite right. But our understanding of the issues is pretty sound." If they think that, then we really are in a sorry mess.  ***

There are many aspects of [deterring people from committing crime]. Economists focus on the whole notion of incentives. People have an incentive sometimes to behave badly, because they can make more money if they can cheat. If our economic system is going to work then we have to make sure that what they gain when they cheat is offset by a system of penalties.

And that's why, for instance, in our antitrust law, we often don't catch people when they behave badly, but when we do we say there are treble damages. You pay three times the amount of the damage that you do. That's a strong deterrent. Unfortunately, what we've been doing now, and more recently in these financial crimes, is settling for fractions – fractions! – of the direct damage, and even a smaller fraction of the total societal damage. That is to say, the financial sector really brought down the global economy and if you include all of that collateral damage, it's really already in the trillions of dollars.

But there's a broader sense of collateral damage that I think that has not really been taken on board. And that is confidence in our legal system, in our rule of law, in our system of justice. When you say the Pledge of Allegiance you say, with "justice for all." People aren't sure that we have justice for all. Somebody is caught for a minor drug offense, they are sent to prison for a very long time. And yet, these so-called white-collar crimes, which are not victimless, almost none of these guys, almost none of them, go to prison.  ***

Let me give you another example of where the legal system has gotten very much out of whack, and which contributed to the financial crisis.

In 2005, we passed a bankruptcy reform. It was a reform pushed by the banks. It was designed to allow them to make bad loans to people to who didn't understand what was going on, and then basically choke them. Squeeze them dry. And we should have called it, "the new indentured servitude law." Because that's what it did.

Let me just tell you how bad it is. I don't think Americans understand how bad it is. It becomes really very difficult for individuals to discharge their debt. The basic principle in the past in America was people should have the right for a fresh start. People make mistakes. Especially when they're preyed upon. And so you should be able to start afresh again. Get a clean slate. Pay what you can and start again. Now if you do it over and over again that's a different thing. But at least when there are these lenders preying on you should be able to get a fresh start.

But they [the banks] said, "No, no, you can't discharge your debt," or you can't discharge it very easily.  ***

This is indentured servitude. And we criticize other countries for having indentured servitude of this kind, bonded labor. But in America we instituted this in 2005 with almost no discussion of the consequences. But what it did was encourage the banks to engage in even worse lending practices.    ***

The banks want to pretend that they did not make bad loans. They don't want to come into reality. The fact that they were very instrumental in changing the accounting standards, so that loans that are impaired where people are not paying back what they owe, are treated as if they are just as good as a well-performing mortgage.

So the whole strategy of the banks has been to hide the losses, muddle through and get the government to keep interest rates really low.  ***

The result of this is, as long as we keep up this strategy, it's going to be a long time before the economy recovers ….

(6) Bank ripoffs: Australians need NOT "more competition" BUT "less debt" - Steve Keen

http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/2010/11/09/more-competition-or-less-debt/

More competition or less debt?

Posted on November 9, 2010 by Steve Keen

As usual, I'll be putting an argument that is contrary to popular opinion on the need for more competition I the banking sector. So to clarify the issue, here's a quick poll: who thinks that Australia doesn't have enough debt?

Nobody? OK, now let's discuss the "need" for more competition in the banking sector.

The raging debate is missing the point–Hockey and the Coalition are right to go after the banks, but they've made a mistake in suggesting that the sector's ills would be cured by more competition. In fact, we allowed too much competition in the 1980s, and again in the 1990s. The outcome, both times, was too much debt—firstly for businesses, and then for households. That's the sector's real problem, and adding a third dose of competition won't fix it.

One of Paul Keating's monumental 'achievements' when he was playing the role of the 'world's greatest Treasurer' was to let virtually unlimited competition into Australia in the form of foreign banks. The initial proposal was to let four in, but Keating's 'triumph' was to successfully argue to allow sixteen to set up shop here. I thought nobody would forget what happened next, but since competition is once again being suggested as a panacea, maybe everyone has forgotten. Cut-throat competition for market share poured money into the hands of Ponzi merchants like Alan Bond and Christopher Skase. That "Bondy" went bust trying to sell beer to Queenslanders just about says it all about the people willing to lend him money.

The end of that era of excess saw most of the foreign banking capacity in Australia collapse, leaving the market pretty much in the hands of the Big Four – not forgetting that one of the them, Westpac, came close to making it the 'big three' when it too nearly collapsed in 1992 with a then record $1.6 billion loss.

After the collapse of Bond Corp, Qintex and others, Australia had virtually nothing to show for it beyond a string of expensive hotels along our shorelines and a mountain of business debt—the unwinding of which gave us "the recession we had to have". The Business sector, which had gone from a debt ratio of 22% to 55% in just over a decade, began to rapidly delever to 40% of GDP by the mid-1990s.

But that is starting to look like ancient history. The contemporary debate on banks is squarely focused on mortgage lending which, we are told, is uncompetitive.

Give me a break. After the Wallis Inquiry in 1996, non-bank lenders were set free by their new ability to raise funds through the securitisation market.  Aussie John Symonds and a throng of others began cutting margins on home loans to build volume, starting a race to the bottom that the banks, to a large extent, were forced to join.

Back when "the recession we had to have" began, mortgage debt was a mere 17% of GDP. It began to rise right from that time—even though unemployment was exploding from under 6 to over 11 percent—and kept on rising to its pre-First Home Vendors Boost (FHVB) peak of 81% of GDP. Courtesy of the FHVB, it rose again to again to 87%, from where it is now falling.

A large reason for this blowout was the competition for market share driven by the growth of the non-bank securitized lenders like Aussie Home Loans, Wizard, etc.

I made a submission to the Wallis Committee in 1996, and walked away stunned when they told me that one of their key recommendations would be to allow securitized lenders into the Australian market. Shocked at how blithely the Committee was considering this, I wrote a supplementary letter to it the next day (July 12 1996), which in part stated that:

The securitisation of debt documents such as residential mortgages does not alter the key issue, which is the ability of borrowers to commit themselves to debt on the basis of "euphoric" expectations during an asset price boom. The ability of such borrowers to repay their debt is dependent upon the maintenance of the boom…

Should a substantial proportion of eligible assets (e.g., residential houses during a real estate boom like that of 87-89) be financed by securitised instruments, the inability of borrowers to pay their debts on a large scale… will be felt by those who purchased the securities, or by insurance firms who underwrote the repayment…

there would obviously be a collapse in the tradeable price, and, potentially, the bankrupting of many of the investors…

Of course, my warnings were ignored in the general euphoria for "more competition", and the rest is history: lending standards dropped as the old and new competitors fought it out for market share, debt to households ballooned, the bust in lending arrived, the securitizers failed and these new competitors were taken over by the big Four once more.

Yet here we are again with people arguing that more competition will improve things. The numbers from the past decade and a half tell a completely different story. Even if you accept the general economics mantra that more competition is always good thing in product markets—which I don't—the usual basis for that is the belief that more competition will mean higher output at lower prices. But the output of the banking sector is debt-based money: we may want debt to have a lower price, but do we really want more debt?

Be careful also about wanting a lower price—in terms of the margin between the RBA's base rate and the variable mortgage rate. One way price can be driven down in competition is by offering a lower quality product, and that's certainly what happened as competition in the post-Wallis Committee era. Lenders replaced careful valuations with drive-by checks to see that there was a building on the block, and careful assessment of capacity to pay with "liar loans" and 30-minute online loan applications (see page 34 of this report by the Home loan lending practices and processes House of Representatives hearing back in 2007):

CHAIR—We will ask Mr Warner for a comment on that. Also we would be interested in knowing is there an issue with the valuations of properties.

Mr WARNER: … We do not have valuers going out doing asset tests on all loans that are undertaken by financial institutions. Some banks get their own either ex-managers to drive by to see if the actual house exists or we have a lower form of valuation being undertaken.

These days it is getting to the point where you actually have the valuer who would not actually even see if the house or asset existed in the first place. You have a drive-by which is at best a cursory glance to see if there is a property on the lot that has been purchased.

With lower quality valuations and many other cost cutting measures like this, the interest rate margin dropped. RBA figures show that headline variable mortgage rates which in the 1980s had been 400 basis points over the RBA cash rate, came down to less than 200bps through the period 2000 to 2008.

So the big paradox for the dominant "we need more competition" argument in the current debate is why, if the banks have lent on much tighter margins, are they so profitable? The answer is to be found the rising volumes of credit extended from the mid-1990s to the present.

Lending volumes are now 400 per cent of what they were in 1992. That would make sense if the economy and population had increased in equal measure, but they have not. The banks kept lending through the GFC, and Australian homebuyers kept up their frenzy of borrowing until March of this year, when the mortgage debt to GDP ratio peaked at 87 per cent. That figure is now coming down as householders deleverage.

You might think that the banks should turn next to business lending, where there have been valid complaints that money for working capital needs is too hard to obtain. However this is add odds with the aggregate lending data for business – it peaked at 63 per cent of GDP in 2008, and has been coming down quicker than homelending.

This is why Joe Hockey's attack on the lack of competition is flawed—what we need is not more lending but less, and not a lower price but a higher quality. This is where both the opposition and government should be looking. Instead, Treasurer Wayne Swan is trying to kick along more lending by buying up RMBS issues, thereby playing the game both the banks and the non-banks want – to keep volumes growing.

Further cut throat completion to grow volumes would be madness—we are saturated with housing debt and the long delayed deleveraging cycle will go on, whatever Wayne Swan does to give it a boost.

What we need are methods to regulate the volumes of debt offered by the banks to stop this happening again, without putting upward pressure on the cost of households have to pay for it. That may sound like an economic impossibility, and it would be if "free competition" between banks were expanded.

In fact there is nothing 'free market' about banking in the first place. Our big four banks are raising covering their shortfall between loans and deposits by borrowing vast sums abroad—equivalent to 40 per cent of mortgages in Australia—exposing the economy to future credit shocks, and all on the back of actual, and implied deposit guarantees provided willingly by the government.

That is massive regulation of a positive kind for banks. It's time to balance that with some less positive regulation—policies that regulate and control the volumes these state-underwritten entities can lend.

(7) $'s loss of Reserve status will break the Empire - Paul Craig Roberts

The Impotence of Elections
                                               
Paul Craig Roberts
Infowars.com
November 3, 2010

http://www.infowars.com/the-impotence-of-elections/

In his historical novel, The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa writes that things have to change in order to remain the same. That is what happened in the US congressional elections on November 2.

Americans out of work, out of income, out of homes and prospects, and out of hope for their children's careers are angry.

Jobs offshoring, which began on a large scale with the collapse of the Soviet Union, has merged the Democrats and Republicans into one party with two names. The Soviet collapse changed attitudes in socialist India and communist China and opened those countries, with their large excess supplies of labor, to Western capital.

Pushed by Wall Street and Wal-Mart, American manufacturers moved production for US markets offshore to boost profits and shareholder earnings by utilizing cheap labor. The decline of the US manufacturing work force reduced the political power of unions and the ability of unions to finance the Democratic Party. The end result was to make the Democrats dependent on the same sources of financing as Republicans.

Prior to this development, the two parties, despite their similarities, represented different interests and served as a check on one another. The Democrats represented labor and focused on providing a social safety net. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance, housing subsidies, education, and civil rights were Democratic issues. Democrats were committed to a full employment policy and would accept some inflation to secure more employment.

The Republicans represented business. The Republicans focused on curtailing big government in all its manifestations from social welfare spending to regulation. The Republicans' economic policy consisted of opposing federal budget deficits.

These differences resulted in political competition.

Today both parties are dependent for campaign finance on Wall Street, the military/security complex, AIPAC, the oil industry, agri-business, pharmaceuticals, and the insurance industry. Campaigns no longer consist of debates over issues. They are mud-slinging contests.

Angry voters take their anger out on incumbents, and that is what we saw in the election. Tea Party candidates defeated Republican incumbents in primaries, and Republicans defeated Democrats in the congressional elections.

Policies, however, will not change qualitatively. Quantitatively, Republicans will be more inclined to more rapidly dismantle more of the social safety net than Democrats and more inclined to finish off the remnants of civil liberties. But the powerful private oligarchs will continue to write the legislation that Congress passes and the President signs. New members of Congress will quickly discover that achieving re-election requires bending to the oligarchs' will.  ...

The tax revenue loss from job losses, bank bailouts, stimulus programs, and the wars have caused a three-to-four-fold jump in the US budget deficit. The deficit is now too large to be financed by the trade surpluses of China, Japan, and OPEC. Consequently, the Federal Reserve is making massive purchases of Treasury and other debt. The continuation of these purchases threatens the dollar's value and its role as reserve currency. If the dollar is perceived as losing that role, flight from dollars will devastate the remnants of Americans' retirement incomes and the ability of the US government to finance itself.

Yet, the destructive policies continue. There is no re-regulation of the financial industry, because the financial industry will not allow it. The unaffordable wars continue, because they serve the profits of the military/security complex and promote military officers into higher ranks with more retirement pay. ...

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