The Warren Report

Liquidate the banks and Fire the Executives!

On Tuesday, a congressional panel headed by ex-Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren released a report on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s handling of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). Warren was appointed to lead the five-member Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) in November by Senate majority leader Harry Reid. From the opening paragraph on, the Warren report makes clear that Congress is frustrated with Geithner’s so-called “Financial Rescue Plan” and doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what he is trying to do. Here are the first few lines of “Assessing Treasury’s Strategy: Six Months of TARP”:

“With this report, the Congressional Oversight Panel examines Treasury’s current strategy and evaluates the progress it has achieved thus far. This report returns the Panel’s inquiry to a central question raised in its first report: What is Treasury’s strategy?”

Six months and $1 trillion later, and Congress still cannot figure out what Geithner is up to. It’s a wonder the Treasury Secretary hasn’t been fired already.

From the report:

“In addition to drawing on the $700 billion allocated to Treasury under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA), economic stabilization efforts have depended heavily on the use of the Federal Reserve Board’s balance sheet. This approach has permitted Treasury to leverage TARP funds well beyond the funds appropriated by Congress. Thus, while Treasury has spent or committed $590.4 billion of TARP funds, according to Panel estimates, the Federal Reserve Board has expanded its balance sheet by more than $1.5 trillion in loans and purchases of government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) securities. The total value of all direct spending, loans and guarantees provided to date in conjunction with the federal government’s financial stability efforts (including those of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as well as Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board) now exceeds $4 trillion.”

So, while Congress approved a mere $700 billion in emergency funding for the TARP, Geithner and Bernanke deftly sidestepped the public opposition to more bailouts and shoveled another $3.3 trillion through the back door via loans and leverage for crappy mortgage paper that will never regain its value. Additionally, the Fed has made a deal with Treasury that when the financial crisis finally subsides, Treasury will assume the Fed’s obligations vis-à-vis the “lending facilities”, which means the taxpayer will then be responsible for unknown trillions in withering investments.

From the report:

“To deal with a troubled financial system, three fundamentally different policy alternatives are possible: liquidation, receivership, or subsidization. To place these alternatives in context, the report evaluates historical and contemporary efforts to confront financial crises and their relative success. The Panel focused on six historical experiences: (1) the U.S. Depression of the 1930s; (2) the bank run on and subsequent government seizure of Continental Illinois in 1984; (3) the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and establishment of the Resolution Trust Corporation; (4) the recapitalization of the FDIC bank insurance fund in 1991; (5) Sweden’s financial crisis of the early 1990s; and (6) what has become known as Japan’s “Lost Decade” of the 1990s. The report also surveys the approaches currently employed by Iceland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and other European countries.”

This statement shows that the congressional committee understands that Geithner’s lunatic plan has no historic precedent and no prospect of succeeding. Geithner’s circuitous Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP) — which is designed to remove toxic assets from bank balance sheets — is an end-run around “tried-and-true” methods for fixing the banking system. In the most restrained and diplomatic language, Warren is telling Geithner that she knows that he’s up to no good.

From the report:

“Liquidation avoids the uncertainty and open-ended commitment that accompany subsidization. It can restore market confidence in the surviving banks, and it can potentially accelerate recovery by offering decisive and clear statements about the government’s evaluation of financial conditions and institutions.”

The committee agrees with the vast majority of reputable economists who think the banks should be taken over (liquidated) and the bad assets put up for auction. This is the committee’s number one recommendation.

The committee also explores the pros and cons of conservatorship (which entails a reorganization in which bad assets are removed, failed managers are replaced, and parts of the business are spun off) and government subsidization, which involves capital infusions or the purchasing of troubled assets. Subsidization, however, carries the risk of distorting the market (by keeping assets artificially high) and creating a constant drain on government resources. Subsidization tends to create hobbled banks that continue to languish as wards of the state.

Liquidation, conservatorship and government subsidization; these are the three ways to fix the banking system. There is no fourth way. Geithner’s plan is not a plan at all; it’s mumbo-jumbo dignified with an acronym, PPIP. The Treasury Secretary is being as opaque as possible to stall for time while he diverts trillions in public revenue to his scamster friends at the big banks through capital injections and nutty-sounding money laundering programs like the PPIP.

From the report:

“Treasury’s approach fails to acknowledge the depth of the current downturn and the degree to which the low valuation of troubled assets accurately reflects their worth. The actions undertaken by Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board and the FDIC are unprecedented. But if the economic crisis is deeper than anticipated, it is possible that Treasury will need to take very different actions in order to restore financial stability.”

This is a crucial point; the toxic assets are not going to regain their value because their current market price — 30 cents on the dollar for AAA mortgage-backed securities — accurately reflects the amount of risk they bear. The market is right and Geithner is wrong; it’s that simple. Many of these securities are comprised of loans that were issued to people without sufficient income to make the payments. These “liar’s loans” were bundled together with good loans into mortgage-backed securities. No one can say with any certainty what they are really worth. Naturally, there is a premium for uncertainty, which is why the assets are fetching a mere 30 cents on the dollar. This won’t change no matter how much Geithner tries to prop up the market. The well has been already poisoned.

Also, according to this month’s Case-Schiller report, housing prices are falling at the fastest pace since their peak in 2006. That means that the market for mortgage-backed securities (MBS) will continue to plunge and the losses at the banks will continue to grow. The IMF recently increased its estimate of how much toxic mortgage-backed paper the banks are holding to $4 trillion.

The banking system is underwater and needs to be resolved quickly before another Lehman-type crisis arises sending the economy into a protracted Depression. Geithner is clearly the wrong man for the job. His PPIP is nothing more than a stealth rip-off of public funds which uses confusing rules and guidelines to conceal the true objective, which is to shift toxic garbage onto the public’s balance sheet while recapitalizing bankrupt financial institutions.

So, why is Geithner being kept on at Treasury when his plan has already been thoroughly discredited and his only goal is to bailout the banks through underhanded means?

That question was best answered by the former chief economist of the IMF, Simon Johnson, in an article which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly:

The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming … is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government — a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises. If the IMF’s staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation; recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression we’re running out of time.(The Atlantic Monthly, May 2009)

The banks have a stranglehold on the political process. Many of their foot soldiers now occupy the highest offices in government. It’s up to people like Elizabeth Warren to draw attention to the silent coup that has taken place and do whatever needs to be done to purge the moneylenders from the seat of power and restore representative government. It’s a tall order and time is running out.

* See Elizabeth Warren’s 8-minute video summary of the COP report.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Mike.

16 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. rg the lg said on April 14th, 2009 at 12:40pm #

    Well … it is a start …

    If liquidation would include only allowing banks to be incorprated in the individual states, and to operate only in the state of original incorporation, we might see some progress.

    The other alternative I am in favor of is a return to the Articles of Confederation and elimination of the federated state … the oligarchic state … the corporate state.

    Ain’t gonna happen … but I can dream …

    Skeptically Cynical,

    RG the LG

  2. Brian said on April 14th, 2009 at 2:55pm #

    The first Warrren Report was a massive cover up of the death of JFK (still unsolved), so it’s great to see some progress with the far better second Warren Report.

  3. kap said on April 14th, 2009 at 10:32pm #

    “The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming . . . is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government…”

  4. Deadbeat said on April 15th, 2009 at 1:00am #

    Capitalism Hits the Fan
    The current crisis did not start with finance, and it won’t end with finance.

    By Rick Wolff

    This article is from the November/December 2008 issue of Dollars & Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice

    issue 279 cover

    Let me begin by saying what I think this crisis is not. It is not a financial crisis. It is a systemic crisis whose first serious symptom happened to be finance. But this crisis has its economic roots and its effects in manufacturing, services, and, to be sure, finance. It grows out of the relation of wages to profits across the economy. It has profound social roots in America’s households and families and political roots in government policies. The current crisis did not start with finance, and it won’t end with finance.

    Rising Productivity, Wages, and Consumption

    From 1820 to around 1970, 150 years, the average productivity of American workers went up each year. The average workers produced more stuff every year than they did the year before. They were trained better, they had more machines, and they had better machines. So productivity went up every year.

    And, over this period of time, the wages of American workers rose every decade. Every decade, real wages—the amount of money you get in relation to the prices you pay for the things you use your money for—were higher than the decade before. Profits also went up.

    The American working class enjoyed 150 years of rising consumption, so it’s not surprising that it would choose to define its own self-worth, measure its own success in life, according to the standard of consumption. Americans began to think of themselves as successful if they lived in the right neighborhood, drove the right car, wore the right outfit, went on the right vacation.

    Wages and Productivity Diverge

    But in the 1970s, the world changed for the American working class in ways that it hasn’t come to terms with—at all. Real wages stopped going up. As U.S. corporations moved operations abroad to take advantage of lower wages and higher profits and as they replaced workers with machines (and especially computers), those who lost their jobs were soon willing to work even if their wages stopped rising. So real wages trended down a little bit. The real hourly wage of a worker in the 1970s was higher than what it is today. What you get for an hour of work, in goods and services, is less now that what your parents got.

    Meanwhile, productivity kept going up. If what the employer gets from each worker keeps going up, but what you give to each worker does not, then the difference becomes bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Employers’ profits have gone wild, and all the people who get their fingers on employers profits—the professionals who sing the songs they like to hear, the shareholders who get a piece of the action on each company’s profits—have enjoyed a bonanza over the last thirty years.

    The only thing more profitable than simply making the money off the worker is handling this exploding bundle of profits—packaging and repackaging it, lending it and borrowing it, and inventing new mechanisms for doing all that. That’s called the finance industry, and they have stumbled all over themselves to get a hold of a piece of this immense pot of profit.
    The Working-Class Borrowing Binge

    What did the working class do? What happens to a population committed to measuring people’s success by the amount of consumption they could afford when the means they had always had to achieve it, rising wages, stop? They can go through a trauma right then and there: “We can’t anymore—it’s over.” Most people didn’t do that. They found other ways.

    Americans undertook more work. People took a second or third job. The number of hours per year worked by the average American worker has risen by about 20 percent since the 1970s. By comparison, in Germany, France, and Italy, the number of hours worked per year per worker has dropped 20 percent. American workers began to work to a level of exhaustion. They sent more family members—and especially women—out to work. This enlarged supply of workers meant that employers could find plenty of employees without having to offer higher pay. Yet, with more family members out working, new kinds of costs and problems hit American families. The woman who goes out to work needs new outfits. In our society, she probably needs another car. With women exhausted from jobs outside and continued work demands inside households, with families stressed by exhaustion and mounting bills, interpersonal tensions mounted and brought new costs: daycare, psychotherapy, drugs. Such extra costs neutralized the extra income, so it did not solve the problem.

    The American working class had to do a second thing to keep its consumption levels rising. It went on the greatest binge of borrowing in the history of any working class in any country at any time. Members of the business community began to realize that they had a fantastic double opportunity. They could get the profits from flat wages and rising productivity, and then they could turn to the working class traumatized by the inability to have rising consumption, and give them the means to consume more. So instead of paying your workers a wage, you’re going to lend them the money—so they have to pay it back to you! With interest!

    That solved the problem. For a while, employers could pay the workers the same or less, and instead of creating the usual problems for capitalism—workers without enough income to buy all the output their increased productivity yields—rising worker debt seemed magical. Workers could consume ever more; profits exploding in every category. Underneath the magic, however, there were workers who were completely exhausted, whose families were falling apart, and who were now ridden with anxiety because their rising debts were unsustainable. This was a system built to fail, to reach its end when the combination of physical exhaustion and emotional anxiety from the debt made people unable to continue. Those people are, by the millions, walking away from those obligations, and the house of cards comes down.

    If you put together (a) the desperation of the American working class and (b) the efforts of the finance industry to scrounge out every conceivable borrower, the idea that the banks would end up lending money to people who couldn’t pay it back is not a tough call. The system, however, was premised on the idea that that would not happen, and when it happened nobody was prepared.

    Two Responses to the Crisis: Conservative and Liberal

    The conservatives these days are in a tough spot. The story about how markets and private enterprise interact to produce wonderful outcomes is, even for them these days, a cause for gagging. Of course, ever resourceful, there are conservatives who will rise to the occasion, sort of like dead fish. They rattle off twenty things the government did over the last twenty years, which indeed it did, and draw a line from those things the government did and this disaster now, to reach the conclusion that the reason we have this problem now is too much government intervention. These days they get nowhere. Even the mainstream press has a hard time with this stuff.

    What about the liberals and many leftists too? They seem to favor regulation. They think the problem was that the banks weren’t regulated, that credit-rating companies weren’t regulated, that the Federal Reserve didn’t regulate better, or differently, or more, or something. Salaries should be regulated to not be so high. Greed should be regulated. I find this astonishing and depressing.

    In the 1930s, the last time we had capitalism hitting the fan in this way, we produced a lot of regulation. Social Security didn’t exist before then. Unemployment insurance didn’t exist before then. Banks were told: you can do this, but you can’t do that. Insurance companies were told: you can do that, but you can’t do this. They limited what the board of directors of a corporation could do ten ways to Sunday. They taxed them. They did all sorts of things that annoyed, bothered, and troubled boards of directors because the regulations impeded the boards’ efforts to grow their companies and make money for the shareholders who elected them.
    The Self-Destruct Button on Liberal Regulation

    You don’t need to be a great genius to understand that the boards of directors encumbered by all these regulations would have a very strong incentive to evade them, to undermine them, and, if possible, to get rid of them. Indeed, the boards went to work on that project as soon as the regulations were passed. The crucial fact about the regulations imposed on business in the 1930s is that they did not take away from the boards of directors the freedom or the incentives or the opportunities to undo all the regulations and reforms. The regulations left in place an institution devoted to their undoing. But that wasn’t the worst of it. They also left in place boards of directors who, as the first appropriators of all the profits, had the resources to undo the regulations. This peculiar system of regulation had a built-in self-destruct button.

    Over the last thirty years, the boards of directors of the United States’ larger corporations have used their profits to buy the President and the Congress, to buy the public media, and to wage a systematic campaign, from 1945 to 1975, to evade the regulations, and, after 1975, to get rid of them. And it worked. That’s why we’re here now. And if you impose another set of regulations along the lines liberals propose, not only are you going to have the same history, but you’re going to have the same history faster. The right wing in America, the business community, has spent the last fifty years perfecting every technique that is known to turn the population against regulation. And they’re going to go right to work to do it again, and they’ll do it better, and they’ll do it faster.

    A Socialist Alternative

    So what do we do? Let’s regulate, by all means. Let’s try to make a reasonable economic system that doesn’t allow the grotesque abuses we’ve seen in recent decades. But let’s not reproduce the self-destruct button. This time the change has to include the following: The people in every enterprise who do the work of that enterprise, will become collectively their own board of directors. For the first time in American history, the people who depend on the survival of those regulations will be in the position of receiving the profits of their own work and using them to make the regulations succeed rather than sabotaging them.

    This proposal for workers to collectively become their own board of directors also democratizes the enterprise. The people who work in an enterprise, the front line of those who have to live with what it does, where it goes, how it uses its wealth, they should be the people who have influence over the decisions it makes. That’s democracy.

    Maybe we could even extend this argument to democracy in our political life, which leaves a little to be desired—some people call it a “formal” democracy, that isn’t real. Maybe the problem all along has been that you can’t have a real democracy politically if you don’t have a real democracy underpinning it economically. If the workers are not in charge of their work situations, five days a week, 9 to 5, the major time of their adult lives, then how much aptitude and how much appetite are they going to have to control their political life? Maybe we need the democracy of economics, not just to prevent the regulations from being undone, but also to realize the political objectives of democracy.

    Rick Wolff is professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is co-author of Knowledge and Class: A Critique of Political Economy, Economics: Marxian vs. Neoclassical, and Bringing It All Back Home: Class, Gender, and Power in the Modern Household.

  5. Jeff said on April 15th, 2009 at 7:18am #

    The problem is that Zion[ism] has truly arrived in America. Neo-cons help with the [dis]organization which has transformed [White European] America to one of many cultures and beliefs. Once [White European] American populations are reduced to a manageable level, [White European] America will no longer exist.

    Warren asks: “What is Treasury’s strategy?”

    Enough already. When is [White European] America going to stand up and send Zion[ism] and the Neo-con support back to where it belongs? The deserts of America do not deserve this wandering mess.

  6. bozh said on April 15th, 2009 at 7:35am #

    db, right
    ‘finacial’ problems, also to me, are mere symptoms. Wolff is casting a wider look and sees other causative factors for what had been happening for 4 centuries in US and 10T yrs in the world.

    and the gang w.o. pang, which wrought the situation is also the same gang that is ‘fixing’ it.
    and according to the gang and books they wld write, our ‘dear leader’ is once again right.

  7. bozh said on April 15th, 2009 at 9:16am #

    jeff, if one wld define or relabel zionism as land robbery, then it becomes clear that the whites were robbing other peoples of their land for ca. 400 yrs.

    on the other hand, the special/unique case of land theft- the one usually called “zionism” – started ca. one century ago.
    both of these unique cases of land robbery with murder/expuslion are about equally brutal/immoral.

    thus birds of a feather flock together. Or one cld say it’s one gang [americanism/zionism] and the same gangsters expanding in unison.

    ashk’m just have a special trait that other folks: they are as gang members of the same gang better gangsters in stealing working and poor people’s money.

    that is the main reason, other, less ‘talented’ robbers, ‘love’ the ‘jews’.
    to these gangsters, americanism- founded on lies/crimes- is god[ism].
    and americanism never changes or wavers; always pouncing in its world series wars, on weaklings.
    but most of them actualy hate these bastards, the jews. tnx

  8. Jeff said on April 15th, 2009 at 12:43pm #

    Cryptic bozh, cryptic. Genesis is more than just a bedtime story. Warning to all which has not been heeded. I watch for long thin tracks in the sand. America in its’ infantile beginnings just wanted to be left alone. Zion[ism] has used it as a tool for its’ own means to the end. As for the native north american of the time, that will always be the sad story. Whom CAN we say destroyed this now long lost “Garden of Eden”? Whom is the “gangtsa'”? Truth will bear out the conclusion. One only has to look at the players concealed in the dugout.

  9. Deadbeat said on April 15th, 2009 at 4:59pm #

    bozh writes…
    db, right “finacial” problems, also to me, are mere symptoms. Wolff is casting a wider look and sees other causative factors for what had been happening for 4 centuries in US and 10T yrs in the world.

    While doing a great service informing the public, writers and economists like Mike Whitney and Michael Hudson is overemphazing the corruption in the financial sector which then crowds out focusing on the overall structural contradictions of capitalism. Focusing so much on the finanacial sector has a reactionary effect rather than a radical one. Whitney and Hudson focus leads people to believe that “deregulation” of the financial sector is the real source of the crisis rather than the past 30 years of worker exploitation.

    When people understand that declining wages is the real source of what when on it not only leads people to question capitalism but also the 30 years of focus, primarily by the Left, on identity politics which essentially blurred CLASS antagonisms and keeps the working class divided along identity lines.

    Whitney and Hudson emphasis essentially implies that the solution of the crisis is RE-REGULATION which will NOT resolve the problem. Whitney, to his credit has suggested that what is needed is jobs and raising wages. Hudson to his credit mentions debt peonage. But the real problem is WAGE PEONAGE which is much better emphasized by Richard Wolff. Once again we are right back to Marx. Hudson unfortunately, being a “Georgist” is rather “anti-Marxist” and thereby are looking for solution that falls OUTSIDE of Marxist analysis. The same hold true for Whitney and why their commentaries miss getting to the root of the problem which is the SAME OLD PROBLEM.

    For example the recent Lendman article about Iceland citing Hudson seems to imply that it was an imperialist plot by the U.S. rather than a class war by the rich Icelandic elites. There was no arm twisting by the U.S. The Icelandic elites sought to accumulate even more wealth by lending to the U.S. and pass the risk onto the working class of Iceland. The same is true regarding the Irish as well. This is merely the every day function of Capitalism.

    Whitney on the other hand, by avoiding Marx, feeds into the kind of mindset promoted by Ron Paul, Alex Jones, and others on the right who see this crisis as an “aberration” of the “free” market when in fact no such economic structure ever existed in Capitalism. Thus having a reactionary effect.

    IF there is ever a time for the Left to reintroduce themselves to Marx it is now.

  10. Jeff said on April 15th, 2009 at 5:52pm #

    O.K. so now what Deadbeat!?

    Maybe Canadian Tire paper as currency?

    Would that work?

    Whom are the people[individual]s that control such.

    What is YOUR FINAL SOLUTION to this situation?

    I have an opinion.

    Does that make the world better?


    When do we start the process to a beginning?

    All here, myself involved, need to get involved.

    Anything else is just “talking head” bullshit.

    some call me frank

  11. Deadbeat said on April 15th, 2009 at 8:38pm #

    Jeff says…

    I have an opinion.

    And everyone has an anus but that doesn’t make for ANALYSIS.

  12. Jeff said on April 16th, 2009 at 5:44pm #

    Well “Deadbeat”, I gave my opinion!

    “[I have an opinion.

    Does that make the world better?


    When do we start the process to a beginning?

    All here, myself involved, need to get involved.

    Anything else is just “talking head” bullshit.]”

    When the FUCK are YOU going to get involved?????

  13. Deadbeat said on April 16th, 2009 at 7:28pm #

    Jeff writes…

    Well “Deadbeat”, I gave my opinion!
    But you didn’t provide an analysis. Look Jeff you confuse “opinion” with analysis. An opinion is what you want to present in order to justify your “belief” system rather than to challenge your belief system with rational arguements. In other words rather than use your BRAIN you want to APE convention.

    When the FUCK are YOU going to get involved?????
    What makes you think I’m not involved? I’m a DEADBEAT for god sakes.

  14. Jeff said on April 17th, 2009 at 7:46am #

    “I’m a DEADBEAT for god sakes.”

    There are times which “opinion” spurs rational arguments.

    There are also times when “reading between lines” is required so as not set off situations.

    Should ones true opinion shine through could lead to further conflict.

    Maybe some need to pounded by a hammer to get the point across, others can read and feel the nuances of the breeze created by that hammer passing by them.

  15. bozh said on April 17th, 2009 at 9:22am #

    yes, the same members of the gang who manage or execute governance, are fixing the socalled financial problems as well as war, healthcare, jurisprudence, drug usage, constitution, warming, etc., problems.

    and as history has shown, the US gang always ‘fixes’ all of the problems; while US rises to ever greater brilliance; ‘checks and balances work out to perfection’, proving once again the greatness of america; meaning, of course, the greatness of socalled public servants.

    i wld have to reread hudson/whitney pieces before saying that they both avoid to mention the governance when dealing with ‘finances’.
    {the word under single quotes, point out the fallacy of presenting to the public and event in isolation from all that is happening}

    and if one does not include cause/affect/effect of governance on all that happens in US and elsewhere, one is presenting a fictitious reality.

  16. bozh said on April 17th, 2009 at 9:53am #

    on the theme of presenting events in isolation from other salient factors/actors/facts, the word “government” is used by overwhelming number of people as existing in total isolation from all other events.

    that there are governments is, to me, the greatest lie ever told. I am speaking solely for myself; letting others to decide for selves how to define them.

    the word “government”, as it had been used and is used now, tacitly implies that these in equal measure govern for all; fairly/honestly/lovingly/caringly.
    even a perfunctory glance reveals that the opposie is true.

    we need to reveal this knowledge to new or young or very young readers. At once inquiring minds wld espy, OK there is gov’t! But what about corporations, laws, the three houses, the vaunted constitution, warfare, drugs, unions, religions, etc. What role, if any, these have to play?

    one may also inquire, why is there so much wrong and yet our constitution is perfect? Bible, quran, and torah/talmud are also flawless/holy!
    so they conclude: it’s us, we are the bad ones; and that is precisely the intention of those who composed all these holy writs with its endless number of eterne verities. tnx