Flimsy Sanity: Paying the debt

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Paying the debt

Then the inevitable happened. The market worked. Lenders stopped lending to the banks and investment houses because no one knew what their derivatives were worth. The music stopped and there weren’t enough chairs for all these seers of Wall Street.

The result was predictable. Bush (the taxpayers) was forced to save them (his constituents?) from their over- leveraged risky investments by stepping in with $29 billion of taxpayers money to save Bear Stearns. Without that, the financial market might have come totally unraveled. And that may be only the first of many such likely scenarios, e.g. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in which profits are privatized and risks socialized.

Most of the worst abuses could have been avoided if Alan Greenspan had not slavishly followed the Bush ideology and remembered the warning from William McChesney Martin, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1951 to 1970, that the function of the Fed was to take the punch bowl away when the party got too exuberant. What did Bush do? He took enforcement power away from the SEC, a law enforcement agency, weak though it may be, and handed it to the Fed, which has been a cheerleader for the big banks and wouldn’t think of being an enforcement agency. While it is true that we should rethink the jurisdiction and power of the financial regulatory agencies, that’s a longer term issue. But anyone who has been involved in Washington problems can tell you, that the best solution is to go in quickly, clean out the mess and don’t let it linger.

Unfortunately, government agencies are led by people who don’t believe in policing the market and don’t understand that a free market only works when there are clear rules. Until there are such rules, and until they are enforced and people are held personally responsible for their actions, we will stagger from crisis to crisis.

Business will suffer too because the longer the financial mess lingers and hurts more and more people, the more likely some draconian action will be taken. A classic example is commodities market regulation. Many believe the so-called “Enron loophole” that allows traders to make unreported commodities trades offshore has added to the speculative increase in oil prices. Bills introduced to halt oil speculation could adversely affect all commodities trading. It would have made sense for the Administration to move to close this loophole earlier; now it’s too late. Of course, as long as traders were making a lot of money by exploiting the loophole, the Administration decided to rely on the “free market” to correct any problems.

The same problems appear in taxes. Everyone agrees that the current tax code is too complicated. According to a recent investigation by the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, there are about $100 billion in uncollected personal taxes because of offshore tax abuses. Yet, the IRS is so understaffed that it can pursue only a few offenders even when it knows about the tax evasion.

UBS, a leading global wealth manager, reports having about 19,000 U.S. taxpayer accounts in Switzerland. American law requires that ownership of such accounts be made public but most have not been and the IRS doesn’t have the resources to go after more than a few of them. The extent of lost corporate revenue is much greater. Every IRS Commissioner who has testified about the transfer pricing system used by multinational corporations to shift profits to tax havens has admitted that the IRS cannot police the system, but the IRS refuses to support using a unitary accounting system that would be simpler and more effective in collecting taxes and leveling the playing field between multinational corporations that don’t have to pay taxes and domestic companies that do.
Martin Lobel

The US also owns a lot of public land and should charge market value for the ore, timber and oil instead of the giveaways that go on now. CRP is renting the land from farmers for conservation purposes and now that farm prices are high, the CRP farmers want to be let out of their contracts. Seems to me the government should be subleasing that land and putting the profit into paying some of the debt that their agriculture subsidies cause.


  • At 6:31 PM, Anonymous Omnipotent Poobah said…

    The Craphouund-in-Chief has again led us into a corner from which there is no real escape. Bail them out and you reward their stupidity. Don't bail them out and cause even more damage than the havoc he's already created.

    But I say if you're going to bail some stupid-ass company out, the terms would include forcing the CEO at the time to step down without a damned penny and bar him from ever working in the financial industry ever again.

    What am I saying?!! Sorry, I hallucinated there for a minute.

  • At 3:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Take a look at this:


    Kinda unbelievable, innit?


  • At 6:22 AM, Blogger liberated psych said…

    Anan: Plus there is lots of state owned land. All federal and state land does not pay property taxes so the citizens have to pay for the upkeep and the regulation (Bureau of Land Management types). I know there are lots of ranchers that pasture their cattle on government land for just pennies. If they had to pay market price that might offset the loss of taxes, but when they tried to raise the rent, the ranchers screamed bloody murder.

  • At 8:53 AM, Blogger michael greenwell said…

    i met a financial analyst the other day who says all of this is going to be worse than the great depression.

    i also think george monbiots article about how this might be the thing that saves the planet made interesting reading. http://tinyurl.com/3b8spm

  • At 9:26 AM, Blogger Nader Enthusiast said…

    Right now, Bernanke and Paulson and Congress and the rest of the power elite have the shock paddles frantically pressed to the chest of the American financial system, hitting the erratic heart of our Debt Empire with shock after shock, hoping and praying the debt bubble of the past 25 years can somehow be extended.

    Alas, the patient is already dead. But with reporters' noses pressed against the window a few feet away, the stalwart crew around the corpse is making a heroic show of lying: "The patient is stabilizing," "the patient is recovering nicely," and so on, and by artificially stimulating the heart to keep producing a weak but visible pulse for all to see.

    -Charles Hugh Smith


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