Posts Tagged ‘henry blodget’

Much ado about nationalization

25 February 2009

The word “nationalize” has at least one great use, in the punchline of a hilarious Winston Churchill story.

But in the current media firestorm over bank nationalization, maybe it’s time to abolish the word as harmful to thought.  (David Paul seems to agree.)

I’ve used the term myself and like the idea of the government temporarily seizing control of the big zombie banks, but “nationalization” has been bandied about so loosely that it’s lost its meaning.  Many people described the Bush-Paulson capital injections (via purchases of preferred stock that gave the government small nonvoting stakes in some banks) as nationalization, when they were really just crude subsidies (as Willem Buiter pointed out).  And if it’s nationalization for the government to temporarily take over a failing bank so as to help depositors and creditors,  avoid systemic risk and arrange for the orderly sale of its assets, then we’ve been doing it for over 75 years, ever since the creation of the FDIC.  In fact, by some compelling accounts, Sheila Bair’s FDIC has been the one shining light in this crisis.

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Two disgraced but insightful peas in a pod?

15 December 2008

I couldn’t resist posting these two items together:

Henry Blodget, the disgraced former equity analyst for Oppenheimer, busted by then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for securities fraud, has a compelling, thought-provoking essay in the December 2008 Atlantic, titled “Why Wall Street Always Blows It.” To be sure, it’s often self-serving, especially his claim that we’re all guilty, not just financial professionals (shades of those great scenes on “The Simpsons” when Homer, after totally screwing everything up, says, “Now let’s not play the blame game”).  But it’s informative just the same, and a good read too.  I thought his point about a larger credit bubble was well taken:

“Why did the housing bubble follow the tech bubble so closely? Because both were really just parts of a larger credit bubble, which had been building since the late 1980s. That bubble didn’t deflate after the 2000 crash, in part thanks to Greenspan’s attempts to save the economy.”

Spitzer, the more recently disgraced former New York Attorney General-turned-Governor, has begun his rehabilitation just as Blodget did:  by writing a column for the online magazine SlateSpitzer’s first column is a critical look at the financial industry bailouts, which he sees as cascading from excessive consolidation in the industry, to the point where so many financial institutions become “too big to fail” that policymakers have almost no choice but to perform these lavish bailouts when things go bad.  It’s an interesting point, a bit different from the usual point about excessive deregulation, as the banking industry had been consolidating well before the Gramm-Leach-Bliley deregulation of 1998.  But I don’t buy Spitzer’s conclusion that antitrust action to break up the big banks is needed.  There do seem to be significant economies of scale in banking; I think it’s no coincidence that the banking industry is also highly concentrated, in fact more so, in the European social democracies.

(modified a bit on 18 December 2008 )