Posts Tagged ‘larry summers’

Dammit Janet, I love you!*

9 October 2013

I am very pleased with the president’s nomination of Janet Yellen to be the next Federal Reserve Chair. Ms. Yellen has impeccable credentials, the best economic forecasting record of any recent Fed official, and appears to take the regulator part of the Fed Chair job seriously.

This last part is important. Larry Summers, the original front-runner for the job, helped push through the key deregulation of the late Clinton years, has dismissed the idea that it contributed to the bubble or crash, and has basically never admitted a mistake in this area. Alan Greenspan was essentially hostile to financial regulation, and bears as much responsibility as anyone for the housing bubble of the 2000s. Ben Bernanke has acknowledged that the Fed failed as a regulator during the housing bubble, but he was a Fed governor for most of that bubble and Chair for the last two years of it. Economist Bill Black finds Bernanke to have been sorely lacking as a regulator. The Fed’s main regulatory task is to try to detect and reduce systemic risk, i.e., risky activities that threaten the larger financial system and economy. Granted, Yellen told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in 2010 that she failed to see several of those risks (securitization, credit rating agencies, Special Investment Vehicles) when she was San Francisco Fed President in 2004-2010, but on the other hand she was among the first at the Fed to publicly call attention to the housing bubble

Granted, monetary policy, not financial regulation, is the main part of the job. I agree with those who have said she will probably be very similar to Bernanke as far as that goes, and I’d call that a good thing. The Fed needs to do what it can to pull us out of this Little Depression, and since interest rates cannot fall below zero, additional measures like buying long-term bonds and mortgage-backed securities (i.e., quantitative easing, or QE) make sense, as long as they work. Yellen is often stereotyped as a “dove” because in recent years she favored expansionary policy and did not state that inflation was an imminent risk, but those recent years were the Little Depression that began in 2008. When unemployment is not the nation’s biggest problem, Yellen is more concerned about inflation. Such as in the roaring 1990s, when Yellen was Clinton’s Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers and then a Fed governor. With unemployment down to its lowest levels in decades, Yellen was an inflation “hawk,” as Matthew O’Brien details.

Whether the Senate is capable of that much nuance as it considers her nomination remains to be seen. I expect she’ll win majority support, including a handful of Republicans, and that Republicans will resist the temptation to filibuster her nomination. The right-leaning American Enterprise Institute offers several reasons why an anti-Yellen filibuster would be a disaster. Then again, flirting with disaster seems to be the Congressional Republicans’ game plan of late.

PS Here is a recent (Nov 2012) interview with Janet Yellen.

* Title stolen from EconoMonitor, who of course got it from Rocky Horror:

Alan Krueger, impeccable choice

29 August 2011

. . . to be the new chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. Krueger is a world-class economist who has produced much fascinating, groundbreaking research, and he has ample Washington policy experience. Although Krueger is typically classified as a labor economist, not a macroeconomist, his research is far-ranging and his opinions on macro issues, as expressed in his columns and Economix blog posts for the New York Times, look sensible and well supported.

On the other hand (and there has to be an “other hand” — I’m an economist, after all!), will Obama listen to him? Christina Romer and Austan Goolsbee, Krueger’s predecessors at CEA, gave Obama excellent advice about the need for a strong fiscal stimulus but he ignored it, opting for a stimulus only about half as large as they urged. Neither of them could possibly have agreed with this summer’s bizarre pivot away from jobs toward deficit reduction at a time of 9% unemployment, not to mention the way it opened up the president to Republican debt-default brinkmanship.  No wonder Goolsbee was so delighted to leave the job.

The usually excellent Ezra Klein was on “The Rachel Maddow Show” tonight, and for once I’d say he got it wrong. He said Krueger’s policy work experience with Larry Summers in the Clinton and Obama administrations and his tennis partnering with Tim Geithner make him just another insider, not a real change. I see no evidence that Krueger is as willing as Summers or Geithner to kowtow to Wall Street interests, and at this point even Summers seems to be calling for a fiscal stimulus instead of short-term deficit reduction. It looks to me like Krueger is cut from similar nuanced-Keynesian cloth as Romer and Goolsbee, but better connected. The CEA chair who plays doubles with Geithner has a better shot of making a difference.

Too big

22 April 2010

The NYT has a good piece on the prospects for federal breakups of the big banks.  It’s not part of the financial reform bill that the Senate Finance Committee just passed, or the one the House passed earlier, but a group of Democratic senators including Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Ted Kaufman of Delaware just introduced such a measure.

Some numbers to sink your teeth into, from the article:

The banking industry has become much more concentrated as it has grown in recent years. In 1995, the assets of the six largest banks were equivalent to 17 percent of G.D.P.; now they amount to 63 percent of G.D.P. Meanwhile, the share of all banking industry assets held by the top 10 banks rose to 58 percent last year, from 44 percent in 2000 and 24 percent in 1990.

UPDATE: Simon Johnson likes the Kaufman-Brown bill and discusses it at length here.  A longer post here about the specious arguments by two senators and Larry Summers in favor of preserving the size of the big banks.

Quote of the day

24 January 2010

Where only so much credit is due:

“Preventing the collapse of the financial system should probably seen as being comparable to a major league outfielder catching a long fly ball. It’s not that easy, but major league outfielders do it.”

Dean Baker, taking issue with the NYT’s contention that Tim Geithner and Larry Summers have gotten too little credit for preventing an all-out financial collapse in the USA.  Baker points out that no major country saw its financial system collapse in this crisis, so the US performance in this regard was nothing special by today’s standards.

The next Federal Reserve Chairwoman

8 August 2009

. . . would of course be the first Federal Reserve Chairwoman.  But the word on the street is that San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President Janet Yellen is said to be on the very short list of possible Fed Chair nominees, along with Larry Summers and a Ben Bernanke re-appointment.

Yellen is an intriguing possibility.  Hands-on experience as S.F. Fed president (including a seat right now on the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed’s policy-making group), stints on the Fed Board of Governors and as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton Administration, longtime tenured economics professor at Berkeley. I’ve read a few of her papers on macro theory and policy, and she writes unusually well for an economist.  (Her review article on efficiency-wage theories of unemployment was probably the clearest thing I read in my entire first year of grad school.) And for what it’s worth, she’ll have good advice at the breakfast table: she’s married to economics Nobel laureate George Akerlof. (Democrats are big on the whole “two for the price of one” concept, no?)


Should Bernanke stay or should he go?

1 August 2009

His term ends in early 2010.  Obama’s decision on his fate will probably come much sooner. I tend to think he should be reappointed, not least because the apparent alternative is Larry Summers.  I’d like to see some other macro/policy economists get consideration — Brad DeLong, for example — but I’ve heard basically no other names mentioned besides Bernanke and Summers.

I think many if not most economists would give Bernanke about a D for his handling of the housing bubble and the expansion of 2005-2007 but at least a B for his handling of the financial crisis and macroeconomic fallout.   (It would be an A if not for the mixed signals in bailing out “little” Bear Stearns and not “big” Lehman Brothers.)  It seems like he’s learned that bubbles are not a benign phenomenon and that the Fed can act to stop them.

Last Sunday’s NYT had an excellent point-counterpoint on the question of Bernanke’s reappointment, a true heavyweight matchup between Nouriel (“Dr. Doom”) Roubini, arguing for, and Monetary History of the United States co-author (with Milton Friedman) Anna Jacobson Schwartz arguing against.  Both columns are well worth reading and re-reading over the next few months.

(This time you’ll have to find the Clash video yourself.  Sorry.)

Big swinging deregulators

30 May 2009


” ‘As Treasury secretary starting in 1999, [Larry Summers] shepherded a couple of bills that helped deregulate financial markets, and he has made it clear that he doesn’t buy the notion that these laws caused the financial crisis.” — David Leonhardt, New York Times, 25 November 2008 (more here)

In this weekend’s NYT Magazine, Summers’ old boss, Bill Clinton, takes full responsibility for the failure to regulate credit derivatives, those most opaque and easily abused of financial instruments.  We already knew that Summers, his predecessor Robert Rubin, and Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan backed the blanket exemption of credit derivatives from regulation.  What we did not know until this week, however, was just how much they regarded financial deregulation as a holy sacrament.  (OK, so we did know that about “Alan Shrugged” Greenspan.)

A Washington Post feature on Brooksley Born, the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission at the time, makes this plain.  In 1998 Born wrote a “concept paper” pondering the possible merits of derivatives regulation, prompting a circling of the wagons by Summers, Rubin, Greenspan, and Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt:

‘In early 1998, Born’s plan to release her concept paper was turning into a showdown. Financial industry executives howled, streaming into her office to try to talk her out of it. Summers, then the deputy Treasury secretary, mounted a campaign against it, CFTC officials recalled.

‘”Larry Summers expressed himself several times, very strongly, that this was something we should back down from,” [Born aide Daniel] Waldman recalled.

‘In one call, Summers said, “I have 13 bankers in my office and they say if you go forward with this you will cause the worst financial crisis since World War II,” recounted [Michael] Greenberger, a University of Maryland law school professor who was Born’s director of the Division of Trading and Markets.’

Cognitive capture, anyone?

The paper was released, and it didn’t cause a crisis.  Unregulated credit default swaps, on the other hand . . .

Mark Thoma has a synopsis of the Post story on Economist’s View.  (Hat tip: Baseline Scenario.)

(For a helpful primer on the rise and fall of the original BSDs, see Daniel Gross’s Slate column of 25 September 2008.)

Soros gets it right

9 April 2009

Yahoo Finance’s Tech Ticker has a nine-minute interview with George Soros, and a quick summary, here.

Nothing too shocking here, but on target and well stated.

Simon Johnson’s latest analysis of the situation is even better, though his assessment of the circle-the-wagons politics of it all is mighty bleak.  Don’t miss Johnson’s link to a January 2009 WSJ piece about financial economist Raghuram Rajan, one of the high-profile Cassandras who predicted the current implosion and who met a hostile “Jane, you ignorant Luddite” response from a star-studded 2005 gala of economists including Larry Summers.

(The money quote from Summers: “[I find] “the basic, slightly lead-eyed premise of [Mr. Rajan’s] paper to be misguided.”  Lead-eyed?  Not in the dictionary; seems to be a fishing term.  Maybe he said “Luddite” and was misquoted?)

Stats of the day

7 April 2009


= percent of U.S. bank assets controlled by the four largest commercial banks (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo; source: Martin Wolf in the FT).  That four-firm concentration ratio is up sharply from 39% in Feb. 2003 (source: Frederic Mishkin’s money and banking textbook, ~2004 edition).

$2.7 million

= money received by Obama chief economist Larry Summers for 40 speaking appearances before bailout-receiving Wall Street financial institutions in 2008.   Now, Summers is a brilliant man with lots of policy experience to share, but how likely is it that these cash-strapped firms were paying just for his insights and not even trying to buy access to Obama’s top economic adviser?  The White House would have us believe that access had nothing to do with it:

‘A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said the compensation was not a conflict for Mr. Summers, adding it was not surprising because he was “widely recognized as one of the country’s most distinguished economists.”’

Some have already called for breaking up the biggest financial institutions, to the point where none of the ones remaining are “too big to fail,” and then letting market discipline or effective regulation keep them in line.  All well and good, but these stats, especially the last two, recall the original 19th century rationale for antitrust action:  The biggest firms just have too much political power.  Small is not only beautiful, but small firms are less likely to be writing the laws of the land.

Obama’s economists, Part I

10 February 2009

This is a topic I’m sure I’ll be returning to many times.  Among my greatest post-election disappointments was Larry Summers’s comment that it was a misconception that deregulation was somehow responsible for the financial crisis.  Hello?  And I still don’t know what to think about Tim Geithner — New York Fed experience a big plus, accomplice role in flawed Paulson bank bailout and AIG handout a red flag (though the “just following orders” defense may apply here).  Clearly Geithner and the overall economic policy of the Obama Administration will be much more of a known quantity after 11 a.m. this morning when Geithner gets his “moment in the sun” to announce the new bailout plan.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich, not for the first time, rips Obama’s economic team as pretty much the same Summers-Robert Rubin crew that rubber-stamped every major deregulatory initiative in sight, giving rise to behemoth too-big-to-fail banking conglomerates and unregulated credit default swaps.  A lot of it is familiar, but I’d missed this news item from last week.   Reports are that the great Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chair who conquered double-digit inflation in the early ’80s and has been a voice of sanity in financial policy ever since, is being frozen out of policy discussions by Summers.  (This brings to mind Willem Buiter’s line that “adding Larry to a team is like putting a whale in an aquarium.”)  Now, the Economic Recovery Advisory Board that Obama set up and tapped Volcker to head is officially supposed to be an  independent voice, separate from the cabinet and Summers’s National Economic Council, so maybe the idea is to keep them separate and avoid a groupthink mentality.   But the word is that Volcker isn’t happy with his current treatment.   We’ll see what happens now that the Economic Recovery Advisory Board is finally up and running.