The 11th Lesson We Need to Learn from Charles Keating’s Frauds: Bring back Glass-Steagall

By William K. Black

On April 2, 2014, as news broke of the death of Charles Keating, the most infamous savings and loan fraud, I posted an article entitled “Ten Lessons We Must Learn from Charles Keating.”   (The April 2 date was ironic, because it was the 27th anniversary of the meeting at which the senators who would become known as the “Keating Five” began to seek to intimidate the savings and loan regulators on Keating’s behalf.)

I failed to explain perhaps the most important lesson we should have learned from Keating and Lincoln Savings.  One of the subtle aspects of the savings and loan debacle that is often overlooked is that we ran a real world test of the importance of the provisions of the 1933 Banking Act known as the Glass-Steagall Act.  Glass-Steagall prohibited “commercial” banks that received federal deposit insurance (created by the same 1933 banking act) from owning equity positions in nearly all financial assets (“investment banking”).  With very limited exceptions, a commercial bank could not own real estate, companies, or stock in companies.  (Banking regulators, hostile to Glass-Steagall despite its immense success, would later add many exceptions.)  The ideas behind Glass-Steagall’s separation of “banking” from “commerce” always made eminent sense from conservative and progressive perspectives.  Commercial banks received a federal subsidy through deposit insurance, so it made no sense for them to be allowed to compete against regular businesses that lacked that subsidy.  It would distort markets to allow such a subsidy. 

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A Business Strategy Long Overdue

By J.D. Alt

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The Washington Post recently reported that Day Care now costs more—in 31 U.S. states—than a college education. In a fit of logic rarely exhibited in today’s journalism, the article explains that since it takes the average family eighteen years to save enough for a child’s college education, that same child now needs to start saving for his or her own children’s Day Care beginning at age eight. The article didn’t mention—I suppose because they thought it was obvious—that this necessity is against America’s child labor laws. And, of course, Little League Baseball would be devastated.

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PBS goes MMT, Cites JKG

What gives money its value?  PBS explores. You can check it out here.

Speculation in the Commodities Market: Part 2 A Response to Price Asset Management

By Ben Strubel

Recently, a nice man named George H. Rohrs Jr. from Price Asset Management, a firm that specializes only in commodities and managed futures investments, emailed me a copy of the newsletter his firm sent to clients in which he wrote a response to my article on commodity funds. Mr. Rohrs asserted:

I wouldn’t call Ben Strubel, the author of this article “stupid.” I would just call him “ignorant” and “unprofessional” and “biased.” I just believe that he ought to get his facts straight before embarrassing himself by publishing the compendium of misinformation contained in his article.

I wouldn’t call Mr. Rohrs an expert in the usage of quotation marks but I would call him a man with some very strong opinions about me. Let’s look at the points he raises in his article and find out if I am in fact ignorant, unprofessional, and biased. Okay. I’m currently sitting in my office not wearing my shoes, so I’ll cop to the unprofessional part.

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Sorry, Kyoto Signatories, Emissions Traders, Carbon Taxers, Homo Oeconomicus Won’t Save the Climate – Part 4

By Michael Hoexter

[Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV]

8.  Effective Climate Policy:  A Massive Commitment of Public and Private Resources

The long list above of features of an effective climate policy may fail the requirement that some would place on documents such as these that they be short and easily absorbed from a momentary scan of the page.  Perhaps at a future date, I or someone else will produce a shorter summary of what would go into effectively transforming the energy basis of society and maintaining and developing civilization beyond its current state.  However when the scale of the challenge is taken into account as well as the stakes involved, I believe the length of the mere sketch I have produced here is warranted.

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Speculation in the Commodities Market: Part 1

By Ben Strubel

This week’s Dumb Investment of the Week is commodity funds. Commodities are physical products such as corn, oil, or sugar. Commodity investments only used to be a way that Wall Street parted institutional investors from their money, but over the past decade banks have been increasingly targeting individual investors either directly or through financial advisors, brokers, and mutual fund companies.

Prior to 2000, commodity markets were strictly regulated. Then, in 2000, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was passed which, among other things, did away with position limits in commodities markets. While commodity index funds have existed since 1991, it wasn’t until recently that they became popular and could handle large inflows of funds. In 2003, several academics published research showing that commodities did not have strong correlations with other asset classes like stocks, bonds, or real estate. Wall Street, never having met a fee-generating idea it didn’t like, seized on this research and began creating and selling commodity index funds to retail and institutional investors. Over the better part of the next decade, $350B flowed to newly created commodity funds.

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Sorry, Kyoto Signatories, Emissions Traders, Carbon Taxers, Homo Oeconomicus Won’t Save the Climate – Part 3

By Michael Hoexter

[Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV]

7.  Outline of An Actually-Effective Climate Policy

Actually-effective climate policy, which might be called a comprehensive climate and energy policy, then has the following components:

1)    National Carbon Mitigation Plan:  National carbon mitigation plans (reduce emissions of greenhouse gas emissions to zero or below) commissioned by individual governments that outline the high-level designs of a zero-net-carbon infrastructure for projected 2050 energy and transportation demand in a particular nation.  Such plans should assume no technological breakthroughs but deployment of existing technologies or foreseeable successor generations of these technologies.  For each nation these plans will look quite different depending on existing infrastructure, natural resources, cultural preferences, and geography.  The plan will include targets for carbon mitigation via land use changes and energy conservation.  Such climate plans should include alternative technological and land-use scenarios which would also estimate the carbon emissions required to build those various scenarios.  A scenario with the highest likelihood of success (defined below) would be chosen first with regular check-points built-in for progress as well as preparation for fall-back scenarios in case of bottlenecks closing down paths and new developments opening up new paths.  Such a plan will need to be built around durable social values, ensuring its resilience to both natural and man-made challenges and changes.  In-built into planning would be a “no-regrets” policy, if in the face of well-tested innovations, substantial changes will yield a better social and environmental outcome.  However, implementation of the plan cannot be shelved or delayed on the basis of speculative claims of improved outcomes by pursuing new and untried innovative technologies.

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Slate’s Civil War about Bigotry and Markets

By William K. Black

Slate is having a healthy, but incomplete, debate about the uproar about Brendan Eich’s resignation from Mozilla.  Eich donated $1000 to the successful campaign to adopt “Proposition 8” in California in 2008.  Prop 8, until it was struck down, banned marriage equality for gays.  William Saletan published a satirical article suggesting that everyone be “purge[d]” who contributed to Prop 8.

Other columnists, such as Mark Stern, weighed in to remind readers about the cruelty of the often homophobic TV ad campaign used by Prop 8 supporters.  Stern makes the point that much of the campaign was designed to picture gays as recruiting straight children.  This column (eventually) discusses why Eich stepped down, but it begins by explaining why neoclassical economists have such a terrible track record in understanding discrimination and its remedies.

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Sorry, Kyoto Signatories, Emissions Traders, Carbon Taxers, Homo Oeconomicus Won’t Save the Climate – Part 2

By Michael Hoexter

[Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV]

4.  Existing Climate Policy Is Lacking a “Drive Axle” Between Ethical Impulse and Policy Implementation

The decision in the 1990’s to turn over climate policy to market mechanisms, in particular emissions trading, was framed by supposedly “objective” economic assumptions based as outlined above on the idea that people are essentially, Homo oeconomicus, i.e. act in practice as if they do not consider, among other things, the moral dimension of life, are “utility” maximizers and are essentially divorced from their community of context or the community of all human beings more generally.  The Kyoto Protocol and its various progeny including the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS), the Northeastern US Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and California’s AB 32 cap-and-trade system, all “hand off” implementation of the intention to reduce climate change to a constructed carbon permit market, layered above the real markets for goods and services.

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Nobel Schizophrenia over the Georges: Stigler and Akerlof

By William K. Black

In a recent column I focused on three brief passages from George Akerlof and Paul Romer’s 1993 article (“Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit”) that had they been listened to would have prevented the fraud epidemics that drove our recent financial crises.

Here is one of those three passages.  Notice how unequivocal they were in their statements about causality.

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