Capital “Can’t be Gamed” – Except Whenever the Bank CEO Wants To

By William K. Black

On October 6, 2014, the Wall Street Journal, only three days ago, published an editorial claiming that regulatory capture was “inevitab[le]” and that we should give up on regulation and rely instead on “simple laws that can’t be gamed” such as an increased capital requirement for banks.  I wrote a two piece response to the editorial.  What I just discovered (though it bears an October 7, 2014 date on the WSJ website) is that one day after the editorial claimed that asset and liability values (the inputs that define “capital”) “can’t be gamed” they presented data indicating that corporations frequently game asset values and that private auditors frequently fail to follow former audit procedures to detect and prevent the overstatement of asset values.  The title of the article is “Audit Deficiencies Surge” and the first two sentences contain the key data.

“Auditors at the largest U.S. accounting firms failed to follow proper procedures in more than four in 10 audits, according to the latest inspections by the U.S. government’s audit watchdog. That was more than double the rate four years earlier.”

Continue reading

Yes We Can Pay for Increasing Social Security Benefits

Some time ago, in the pages of USA Today, Duncan Black, better known to some as Atrios voiced the immediate need for increased Social Security benefits of 20% or more even if it means raising taxes on high incomes, or removing the payroll tax cap on salaries.

Black is right about the need for increased benefits; but legislating that increase doesn’t require increasing taxes. In fact, Congress should both increase benefits and remove the payroll tax entirely.

But how is that possible without greatly increasing “the national debt”? The answer to that one is easy. Don’t tax or borrow to pay for it. Just mint a single one oz. platinum coin at the beginning of each fiscal year with a face value large enough to cover expected the cost of SS payments. Doing it that way will both take care of retirement needs and also provide a huge shot in the arm for employment, since the increase in Social Security benefit payments and the ending of the payroll tax won’t be offset by tax increases elsewhere that will depress aggregate demand. Continue reading

EU Austerity Bites the Austerians

By William K. Black

You know the austerians are panicking when the temple devoted to the worship of austerity, the Wall Street Journal, runs a story with the subtitle:  “Eurozone’s Largest Economy Has Its Worries, but Isn’t on Brink of Collapse.”  We can all sleep well at night because while Germany has screwed up its economy and the eurozone economy with self-destructive austerity it “isn’t on brink of collapse.”

“August’s shocking 4% decline in German industrial production versus July doesn’t signal an economy falling off a cliff. But the outlook for Germany—and by extension for the eurozone—is far from bright.


Germany’s second-quarter gross domestic product was disappointing, registering a contraction of 0.2% on the quarter. August’s data put in question the modest rebound many economists are expecting in the third quarter. Surveys of economic sentiment have been declining: Markit’s manufacturing purchasing managers index for September entered contraction territory, at 49.9. Weaker global demand and concerns about the tensions between Russia and Ukraine are to blame. If this unpleasant mix persists, then growth seems unlikely to pick up.”

Continue reading

If this is “Regulatory Capture” May the Lord Smite Us with It – And May We Never Recover!

By William K. Black

In Fiddler on the Roof, Perchik and Teyve have this exchange:

Perchik: Money is the world’s curse.

Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it! And may I never recover!

I was reminded of this when reading the Wall Street Journal editorial claiming that “regulatory capture” was “inevitab[le]” and that we should therefore replace financial regulation with “simple rules” that “can’t be gamed.”

In my first installment I showed that the WSJ’s “simple rules” not only can be gamed – they are invariably gamed massively in the epidemics of accounting control fraud that cause our recurrent, intensifying financial crises.  This installment refutes the “inevitability” of “regulatory capture.”  As I promised to explain, I can personally attest that regulatory capture is not “inevitab[le]” even in circumstances that are ripe for capture.  Further, “regulatory capture” has no definition and economists use it and the term “rent-seeking” as sloppy swear words to describe regulatory actions that are the opposite of regulatory capture.  I conclude by showing that we know how to avoid harmful “regulatory capture,” but the ideologues that oppose effective regulation deliberately chose anti-regulatory leaders who create a self-fulfilling prophecy of regulatory failure.  The WSJ editors and neo-classical economists are the jockeys who insure that their horse loses – and then blame the horse.

Continue reading

Grasping at straws and more trickery from Forbes’ Scott Winship

By Pavlina Tcherneva (revised 10/10/14)

Winship has produced a rambling and insulting retort to a very thorough and thoughtful response to his false critique of my original inequality chart.

Here are my brief replies to his last post.

  1. Let me say it again. His business cycle chart is incorrect.  One cannot make any sense of what is happening to the distribution of income growth over time by the way he reports his periods. To use his own words, it does not “convey history correctly”.

You can be the judge of whose method is better (his or mine) in calculating the business cycles, but even if you use his method, his results are wrong. See herewhere I present two business cycle charts (using both methods). Both methods yield completely different and more depressing trends than in his chart. It is unclear how he’s chosen his periods.

In a very disingenuous way, Winship, passes the hot potato and implicates Saez and Piketty in his own error, arguing that they do the same thing in Table 1 here. This is incorrect. Saez and Piketty’s table shows one whole time period and then several discrete periodsof various recessions and expansions and, unlike Winship, they have identified their expansions and recessions correctly. They do not report the history of all business cycles (go ahead, check).

Continue reading

The Lower Unemployment Rate is a Recovery – for the Top 10%

NEP’s Pavlina Tcherneva appears on The Real News on October 5, 2014. The topic of discussion is the slow recovery and why monetary policy that is directed at finance and not job creation has this effect.

Growth and Inequality in the U.S.: when “shared prosperity” means shared by the very few

(A response to Forbes’ Scott Winship)

By Pavlina Tcherneva (revised 10/10/14, 10/11/14)

For the last few years, I’ve been studying the recovery and the kind of monetary and fiscal policies that are conventionally used to deal with recessions. One of the questions I considered was not just how we grow, but who benefits. The answer to the first question, I argue, provides insights into the second.

Examining the widely-used Piketty-Saez data, I found that the way we grow in the U.S. brings inequality. Namely, with virtually every postwar expansion, a greater and greater share of the average income growth has gone to the wealthy 10% of families. In the immediate postwar era a declining share of growth went to the bottom 90% of families (a trend not to be ignored), but they still captured the bulk of the growth in average incomes. Since 1980, however, the majority share has gone to the rich, while in the latest expansion they captured 116% of that income growth. This seemingly absurd result is due to the fact that incomes of the bottom 90% of families during the 2009-2012 period have been shrinking.

Continue reading

The Wall Street Journal’s Incredible Claim that Banks Can’t “Game” Asset Values

By William K. Black

The Wall Street Journal has published a disingenuous editorial that claims that it is we should not worry about anti-regulatory leaders who produce a self-fulfilling prophecy of regulatory failure because they are chosen on the basis of their ideological opposition to effective regulation.  The WSJ’s position is that George Stigler supposedly proved that “regulatory capture” is “inevitab[le]” and that any need for financial regulation and supervision can be supplied by “simple laws that can’t be gamed” such as a 15% capital requirement.

“Once one understands the inevitability of regulatory capture, the logical policy response is to enact simple laws that can’t be gamed by the biggest firms and their captive bureaucrats. This means repealing most of Dodd-Frank and the so-called Basel rules and replacing them with a simple requirement for more bank capital—an equity-to-asset ratio of perhaps 15%. It means bringing back bankruptcy for giant firms instead of resolution at the discretion of political appointees. And it means considering economist Charles Calomiris’s plan to automatically convert a portion of a bank’s debt into equity if the bank’s market value falls below a healthy level.”

No person did more to try to make financial regulation ineffective than did George Stigler, though Peter Wallison, Alan Greenspan, and Charles Calomiris were all in the running for that title.  No media organ tries so hard to destroy effective financial regulation as the WSJ.  Calomiris also ran his bank into the ground and was denounced by his brother as incompetent, so the suggestion that we take advice from him is a fine example of unintentional self-parody.

Continue reading

Equality, MMT, Real Fiscal Responsibility, and Re-inventing Democracy

Inequality and MMT

For some time now, MMT has been receiving criticism from self-identified progressives charging that MMT economists and advocates aren’t concerned about one of the most pressing problems in modern democracies and especially in the US, namely, increasing and often extreme inequality. MMT supporters have responded by citing much previous work on inequality, a lot of it done at the Levy Institute, by pointing out their great concern over the problem, and their work in advocating for a Federal Job Guarantee that would do more than perhaps any other single piece of legislation to ameliorate both poverty and inequality.

Continue reading

Germany Demands Greater Austerity Because Three Recessions in Six Years are not Enough

By William K. Black

Things are going badly in the eurozone – as they have for six years due to Germany’s demand that “there is no alternative” (TINA) to austerity as the response to the Great Recession.  Austerity caused a gratuitous second Great Recession throughout the eurozone and threw nations with one-third of the eurozone’s total population into Great Depression levels of unemployment.  Austerity has now forced Italy into a third recession in six years and produced overall stagnation in the eurozone.  Germany, whose budget surplus has produced economic stagnation, has found a solution to the latest crisis caused by self-destructive austerity – greater austerity.  Better yet, as a Reuters column relates, Germany’s leaders are enraged that anyone would dare to question why it makes sense to reduce further already inadequate demand through austerity.

Continue reading