Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nothing But Words

A lot of instant analysis is going into telling you what to think about the new financial regulatory plan from President Obama, so I will help you out by throwing in some more. My favorite comment so far was from a guest on PBS' Nightly Business Report last night, a financier named Robert Albertson, Chief Strategist, Sandler O'Neill. I picked him because his analysis was priceless.

Albertson said; I'm very disappointed to see this. This is deck chair movement. This is words.

In case you don't recognize this charge, it repeats complaints about Treasury Secretary Geithner's original plan that was presented to the congress, which wingers said just was nothing but a sketch, and no more than words.

In both cases, I am suspicious that what that really meant was that the complaints were from the usual subjects, who are going to obstruct anything positive or beneficial, and don't want to take the time and trouble to invent anything that really counter the plan.

Even wingnuts have qualms about continuing the lack of regulation that Alan Greenspan has admitted led to this mess. Coming up with the newest line is going to take practiced obstructionism, and they're hard at work right now on that. But for the meantime, I thought 'nothing but words' worked really well. In the movie Amadeus, Mozart has produced a great piece of music, and the king likes it but feels he has to have some reservations, so he announces that it has 'too many notes'. That has always seemed to me like a beautiful example of criticism for the sake of coming up with something to find wrong.

Let's see now, we have a Constitution that is 'nothing but words'. For eight years of maladministration, our system of laws was nothing but words. For that matter, the rule of law without being imposed is nothing but words. And without penalties, any law is nothing but words. Even those not regretted Signing Statements (hereinafter SS) are nothing but words, lacking the power to carry them out. Those particular SS nothings, though, were used to destroy our constitutional system and re-institute legislation by the executive. The executive did not have the power constitutionally, but with an executive branch to carry out law by SS, could do it anyway.

What's in a word? The wingnuts like to throw around Fannie and Freddie, and blame our financial crisis on those institutions although their mortgage default rate was very much below average. Of course, Fannie and Freddie are the right wing's code words for non-white, a.k.a. low income, borrowers.

Another set of meaningless words are Triple-A Rating, a grade given to valueless, a.k.a. toxic, investments in mortgages that were thrown like beads at Mardi Gras - at anyone who would pick them up off the street. Of course, when the financial community threw those words, it had detached value from money altogether, so the words really had no meaning. This is the community that wants President Obama's regulations to be undermined, thrown out, and represent 'just words'.

That thought was expressed well at Time yesterday.

...gaming capital requirements is what banks do. For the next decade or two I imagine regulators will do a pretty good job of policing this. Eventually they won't.

Banks have been of this sort at the highest level, which is why we're in trouble now. I disagree with author Justin Fox on this point. When loans are retained by the original loan originator, they have an interest in making real loans that are not 'just words' - that liar loan of recent years. Banks don't have to be fly-by-night high stakes gamblers, and what is behind and integral to the regulations is return to value, the thing that makes our financial system work.

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