The Economic Agenda for America: A Commentary

Senator Bernie Sanders just released his “Economic Agenda for America.” While that agenda is certainly more progressive than the talk we hear from Democrats, and certainly is progressive in its expression of generalities. It is not nearly sufficiently progressive in its specifics.

Here’s a commentary on it.

1. We need a major investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools. . . . A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive. . .

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New York City: Aggressive “Broken Windows” Policing but Carte Blanche for Banksters

By William K. Black
Kansas City, MO: December 6, 2014

New York City exemplifies two perverse criminal justice policies that drive many criminologists to distraction. It is the home of the most destructive epidemics of elite financial frauds in history. Those fraud epidemics hyper-inflated the housing bubble and drove the financial crisis and the Great Recession. The best estimate is that the U.S. GDP loss will be $21 trillion and that 10 million Americans lost their jobs. Both numbers are far larger in Europe. The elite “C Suite” leaders of these fraud epidemics were made wealthy by those frauds through bonuses that measured in the billions of dollars annually.

The most extraordinary facts about the catastrophic fraud epidemics, however, is New York City’s reaction to the fraud epidemics. Not a single Wall Street bankster who led the fraud epidemics has been prosecuted or had their fraud proceeds “clawed back.” Not a single Wall Street bankster who led the fraud epidemics is treated as a pariah by his peers or New York City elites. New York City’s elected leaders have made occasional criticisms of the banksters, but Mayor Bloomberg was famous for his sycophancy for the Wall Street banksters that made him wealthy. In 2011, Mayor Bloomberg attacked the “Occupy Wall Street” movement for daring to protest the banksters.

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The ECB and the NYT’s Obsession with Talking about Deflation

By William K. Black
Kansas City, MO: December 4, 2014

In the last two days, the New York Times’ website has published a blizzard of six article about deflation, several of them focusing on the European Central Bank (ECB). Collectively, these article mention the word “deflation” seven times and the word “inflation” 75 times. Collectively, the same articles contain the word “unemployment” 10 times and the word “unemployed” zero times. “Unemployment” is the word one uses to provide a statistic. “Unemployed” is the word one uses to discuss who is harmed and how they are harmed because they lose their ability to find a job.

The word “demand” is used only twice and both usages are in the context of oil prices rather than the eurozone’s grossly inadequate demand that already inflicted a second, gratuitous Great Recession and threatens to cause a third. The word “austerity” – the form of economic malpractice akin to bleeding a patient to make him healthy – is mentioned only twice and solely in the article on the Bank of England.

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Jeffrey Sachs Channeled His Inner Bill Black – and Obama and Holder Ignored Him Too

By William K. Black
Kansas City, MO: December 4, 2014

“Yves Smith,” the nom de guerre (and plume) of the finance expert who created and runs the invaluable blog Naked Capitalism, wrote an introduction to a piece roughly 18 months ago that mentions me. The points she made in that introduction, including the reason she invoked my name, are important but the lapse of time since she wrote it teaches us another important lesson. Here is the introduction.

“One of the things that Matt Stoller has stressed that the possibility of reform is remote until breaks within the elites take place.

Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia professor and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia, is a controversial figure for his neoliberal stance on macroeconomics and his role in promoting the use of ‘shock therapy’ in emerging economies. But it is also important to recognize that criticism from a connected, respected insider has more significance than that of someone like Bill Black, who has made a career of taking on bank fraud but has never reached a top policy-making level.”

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The Way Out of Shutdown Shenanigans

Today, I received an e-mail from the Friends of (the very popular with progressives) Senator Bernie Sanders. In it the Senator says:

I’m joining with the members of Progressives United to send a clear message to President Obama that we will stand with him when he vetoes Republican legislation that attacks the well-being of the struggling middle class.

Join me and members of Progressives United to urge the president to VETO any Republican legislation that attacks working families.

NO to cuts in Social Security. NO to cuts in Medicaid. NO to converting Medicare into a voucher program. NO to new trade legislation that sends our jobs overseas and hammers our middle-class workers. NO to cuts to nutrition programs, education or environmental protection.

YES to raising the minimum wage. YES to a massive jobs program rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. YES to transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels. YES to pay equity for women workers. YES to overturning Citizens United.

We already know what “compromise” will mean from a Republican Congress: their way or the highway. In order to win in the future, President Obama must stand strong for the American middle class, and we must support him.

Tell President Obama: Standing firm is the only option, and that means committing to VETO legislation that attacks working families, and fighting for legislation that defends their needs.

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The Answer to the Unemployment Problem Is More Jobs

By L. Randall Wray

Dean Baker, everyone’s favorite progressive economist (mine, too), has an interesting take on our unemployment problem.

Give more paid vacations.

The idea is that if all the employed work less, employers will need to hire the unemployed to produce what the already employed won’t be producing while sunning themselves on Florida’s beaches.

Look, I’m all for shorter work weeks. It is ridiculous that labor’s push somehow got stuck a century ago at the 40 hour work week in the USA. Employed Americans work more hours per year than just about any other workforce on the planet.

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Enough Money

By J.D. Alt

Money causes labor to do useful things, and goods and services to be exchanged between people, thereby enabling people in general—both individually and collectively—to obtain what they need. In order for this process to occur in an optimal way—that is, in order for the maximum number of people to obtain what they need, individually and collectively, it seems clear that two basic conditions must be met: (1) there needs to be enough money to pay people to create all the goods and services they need, and (2) this adequate supply of money needs to be in the hands of people who are actually able and motivated to spend it for that purpose.

By “enough money” I mean this: Is there enough money to pay people to build all the things and provide all the services they need both individually and collectively—without there being too MUCH money (which could cause prices to escalate)? If there isn’t enough money, it is likely there will be things we need but which we cannot have—not for the lack of available and willing labor to provide those things, but for lack of money with which to pay that labor. In this case that labor not only remains wastefully unemployed, but we, collectively and individually, go without something which we otherwise could have, and might possibly—even desperately—need. (It is also possible, of course, that we cannot have the things we need because the required natural resources—energy, materials, chemicals and minerals etc.—are not available. This, however, is not a “money problem” but a resource problem.)

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The Wall Street Journal Still Refuses to Grasp Accounting Control Fraud via Appraisal Fraud

By William K. Black
Kansas City, MO: December 2, 2014

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) report described one of three epidemics of accounting control fraud that drove the financial crisis in these terms.

“Some real estate appraisers had also been expressing concerns for years. From 2000 to 2007, a coalition of appraisal organizations circulated and ultimately delivered to Washington officials a public petition; signed by 11,000 appraisers and including the name and address of each, it charged that lenders were pressuring appraisers to place artificially high prices on properties. According to the petition, lenders were ‘blacklisting honest appraisers’ and instead assigning business only to appraisers who would hit the desired price targets” [FCIC 2011: 18].

The FCIC Report then documents scale of this epidemic of loan origination fraud.

“One 2003 survey found that 55% of the appraisers had felt pressed to inflate the value of homes; by 2006, this had climbed to 90%. The pressure came most frequently from the mortgage brokers, but appraisers reported it from real estate agents, lenders, and in many cases borrowers themselves. Most often, refusal to raise the appraisal meant losing the client” [FCIC 2011: 91].

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Another Dose of Prosecutorial Discretion

Here’s a footnote to my recent post on prosecutorial discretion. Of course, the Grand Jury verdict not to indict Darren Wilson in Ferguson was a product of prosecutor McCulloch’s decision to perform a non-directive prosecution accompanied by a “jury dump” without benefit of clear guidelines and instructions. This had the predictable result that the jury would carry on its own trial, not only absent vigorous prosecution, but by all accounts a prosecution that played more of the role of a defense attorney then a representative of law enforcement prosecuting a crime.

The way McCulloch proceeded in the case is almost never done by prosecutors and it illustrated perfectly the contrast between prosecution for me, and discretion for thee, the very mark of a legal system that is broken, failing to produce equal justice for all, under the law. This is perfectly acceptable to many Americans when it is not their ox that is being gored. So, we recently heard thunderous recriminations from the right over the President’s executive orders on immigration, but perpetual loud silence about the IRS’s failure to enforce the law prohibiting tax exemptions for claimed 501 (c) (4) organizations that are not exclusively engaged in social welfare activities. Now, we’re seeing rage against a prosecutor who obviously fixed an unjust outcome in a prosecution he did not want to engage is at all. The rage is justified, of course, and there are many lessons we can draw from Ferguson, but surely one of them is that we need to limit prosecutorial discretion. It gives prosecutors far too much power to ‘fix’ justice, which in various ways they do all the time.

The NYT Thinks Jailing the Banksters Would Cause a “Bind

By William K. Black
San Francisco California: November 24, 2014

Peter Henning, in his self-bowdlerized Dealbook feature he branded as “White Collar Watch” (note his deletion of the word “crime”) has come up with an article that illustrates that the New York Times is clueless about bank regulation. The good news is that once the fundamental error in their understanding of banking regulation is corrected the supposed dilemma that the Henning claims has placed the NY Fed in a terrible “bind” disappears. The title of Henning’s November 24, 2011 article has morphed during the course of the day into “Fed’s New ‘Cop on the Beat’ Role Put it in a Bind.” The title exemplifies three fundamental errors. First, the role of federal financial regulators as “regulatory cop on the beat” is not “new.” It has always been our paramount role as financial regulators. Second, Henning’s columns was prompted by William Dudley, the NY Fed’s President’s testimony before a Senate banking committee subcommittee in which he expressly refused to function as the “cop on the beat” our Nation vitally needs. Third, were Dudley to embrace the role of “cop on the beat” and perform it properly he and our Nation would escape the desperate “bind” we are in – not create a “bind.” Henning’s article tries to support the three errors encapsulated in his title in the reverse order, which I will track.

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