'The Federal Reserve Learnt the Lessons Of The Great Depression'

Prof Randall Kroszner..

R Jagannathan and Vivek Kaul

Randall S Kroszner served as a Governor of the Federal Reserve System from March 2006 until January 2009. During his time as a member of the Federal Reserve Board, he chaired the committee on Supervision and Regulation of Banking Institutions and the committee on Consumer and Community Affairs. Kroszner was a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) from 2001 to 2003. Currently he is the Norman R Bobins Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He is an expert on international financial crises and the Great Depression. He was recently in India for the opening of The University of Chicago Center in Delhi. In this interview Kroszner tells Forbes India on how the Federal Reserve managed to avoid another Great Depression in 2008 and why it had to let the investment bank Lehman Brothers go bankrupt.

You were a governor at the Federal Reserve between 2006 and early 2009. That must have been a very tough and an exciting time…
Three easy years…(laughs). I am joking.
Can you give us some flavour of how those years were?
It was an incredibly challenging time because the markets were moving so rapidly. The economy was also moving rapidly downward. So we had to take important decisions in real time. We would often get into situations where we would try to survive until Friday and then try to do the resolution by Sunday, before the Asian markets opened. So we had a lot of board meetings late on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. And it was a time where having an economic framework was very useful because when you have to make decisions in real time, you need to have a framework to understand what the priorities are.
You and Ben Bernanke are scholars of the Great Depression. How did that help?
A number of us were quite familiar with the economic history. Three out of the five of us on the board had written papers on the Great Depression. And we were all pretty much influenced by Milton Friedman and Anna Scwartz’s magisterial A Monetary History of the United States. Their study squarely put the blame on the inaction of the Federal Reserve, turning a depression into the Great Depression. Those were very important lessons for us and gave us both an economic and historical framework for looking into the kind of price distress we were having at that point of time, so that we could act quickly and boldly to prevent a repeat of the Great Depression.
Did you all really believe that if the fiscal side and the monetary hadn’t acted as they did in 2008, you were really seeing a repeat of the Great Depression?
There was a certainly a risk of that because clearly there was a lot of turmoil in the financial markets. There was a potential for failure of many financial institutions, if the Fed did nothing and did not provide liquidity to the market and some institutions. It was by no means a certainty. Even if the probability was low, it’s a risk that I and other members of the Federal Reserve board were reluctant to take.
In the meetings at the Fed before September 2008 what was the atmosphere like? Did Chairman Bernanke and other governors have a clue of what was to come?
If you see the verbatim transcripts of 2008 many of us including myself were very concerned about the fragility of the market and the economy. We undertook some very bold action in terms of a very rapid interest rate cut. This was at a time when the European central banks were raising interest rates because oil prices were rising throughout 2008. But our forecast was that demand was likely to go down significantly and that the rise in oil prices was just a temporary price shift not suggesting an underlying increase in inflation. And that is why we had interest rates very low during that time period while other central banks were raising interest rates.
Being the Chair of the committee on Supervision and Regulation of Banking Institutionsyou must have been in the room when a decision to let Lehman Brothers go bust would have been made. What was the atmosphere like?
So, there was no meeting where a go/no go was made. It was a series of processes. Remember we were dealing with independent investment banks having significant funding troubles and having great concerns about their ability to survive. And so we were exploring whether there could be merger partners for organisations like Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers. Bank of America decided to buy Merrill Lynch. There were others who were looking at Lehman Brothers and we thought that we would be finding a merger partner. But it then emerged over that weekend[the weekend of September 13-14, 2008] that a merger partner was not available for Lehman Brothers. The market had known that they were in trouble for a while. And Lehman Brothers had not been willing to merge with a number of other institutions that had proposed merger over the summer. Hence, it was in an effectively weak capital position. Its business model was imploding and so, the Fed was not able to do a capital infusion.
Why was that the case?
The Fed can only lend against good collateral to a solvent organisation. It was very difficult to make an assessment at that time. There was a merger partner avaialble for Merrill Lynch and Bank of America could provide capital infusion and support. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs had sufficient capital and sufficiently functional business models, that we felt comfortable granting them bank charters on an emergency basis. But Lehman Brothers did not have that wherewithal.
But two days later Federal Reserve stepped into rescue AIG. How do you explain that?
Well remember that the Fed could lend against good collateral. The problematic part of AIG was the financial products subsidiary of the holding company. But AIG had other operations in many states and in many countries that were not associated with the challenges that were there in the financial products division. And also AIG had sufficient collateral to be able to post against the loan.
You are also a scholar of the Great Depression. What were the mistakes made during the Great Depression that haven’t been made during the period of what is now called the Great Recession?
As you know a number of us including Bernanke, myself and one of the other governors, were students of the Great Depression and had done work on it. Milton Friedman and Anna Scwartz’s in their magisterial book on the monetary history of the United States had said that depression of the late twenties and early thirties was turned into the Great Depression precisely because the Fed did not act. The Fed stood by as the money supply collapsed, and as deflation came in. The prices fell by a third, GDP fell by 30%, and unemployment went up to 20%, and there was no action.
And that was the lesson?
Yes. That was a very important lesson for those of us who had studied the Great Depression, to make sure that we did not make that mistake of inaction because the central bank can prevent deflation. Broadly, we certainly learned the lessons of the Great Depression at the Fed, to make sure that we didn’t make the same mistakes. We didn’t just sit ideally and allow the price level to fall significantly and allow the GDP to contract. Honestly, we were able to avoid a significant to recession. It is really something very different from what happened in the 1930s.
You also managed to avoid a deflation…
Deflation can be very destructive as we saw in the thirties. Even a mild deflation can be very problematic as we have seen over the last fifteen years in Japan. It was the strong commitment on the part those of us who studied the 1930s as supposed to the others, to make sure to not allow a state of inaction, where a central bank did not act as the lender of the last resort, which is actually what it was created to do. Further, central banks around the world have to be vigilant against the threat of deflation.
nternational financial crises is an area of your expertise. Why are economists unable to spot bubbles. Your colleague and Nobel laureate Eugene Fama has even gone to the extent of saying that “I don’t even know what a bubble means. These words have become popular. I don’t think they have any meaning.”
It is easy ex-post to say that aha that price did not make any sense or it was clear that price would be coming down. But when in you are real time it is very difficult to be able to tell whether there is some sort of dislocation of the market or a fundamental change. We had the same challenge after the Asian, Russian and the Latin American crisis in the 1990s. The World Bank, IMF and many economists looked for indicators, so called red flags, which you could look at and tell when the economy is is getting overheated. They tried to figure out which are the indicators that can tell us that credit growth is too fast, or that there is a “bubble” in a particular sector. Despite a lot of work by a lot of very smart people on the policy side and the academic side, we really haven’t come up with a simple set of indicators or any indicator where you can have confidence and say just look at x, y and z, and you know that there is some sort of dislocation here, that is going to be reversed.
In a recent interview you said that the Fed’s approach to communication has changed through the years. Could you elaborate on that?
The communication has become more complete and more transparent and also the words have changed over time. They are sometimes called forward guidance. They are sometimes called open mouth operations because its talking about what kind of purchases and sales that the open market operations are going to do. In my last meeting at the Federal Open Market Committee(FOMC) we brought interest rates to approximately zero and said that we would keep them there for an extended period of time. That gradually changed into a particular date, and Fed would describe dates like 2014/2015. That changed to a description of 6.5% unemployment threshold. And most recently the Fed has said that it would not be focusing on a particular unemployment threshold.
What is the aim here?
I think all of the statements are trying to get at the same thing. It’s different words in different circumstances, around the same idea about the desire of the Fed to provide liquidity support to monetary accommodation to make sure that the economy fully recovers before it decides to take the punchbowl away. In these uncharted waters, giving a little bit more guidance about what the Federal Reserve thinks about policy making and how is it going to react to data is helpful because the past behaviour may not be that useful because we haven’t had these kinds of circumstances before.
In a recent interview when you were asked that when do you think the time will come when the Federal Reserve will start to raise interest rates, you had replied “I do think it will come sometime in my lifetime”. Does that mean the era of low interest rates in the US is here to stay? That was a bit of flip comment. I hope you understand that it was not meant seriously. We have had low interest rates for five to six years now. There is a hope that the economy will be strong enough sometime in 2015, and rates will be able to go up. You can see from most recent FOMC documents all of the FOMC members believe that the interest rates will be higher by the end of 2015 than they are now. And that sounds to me as reasonable.
A lot of gold bulls have been thinking that some point gold should have some role in money making. Do you see gold ever having any kind of role in monetary policy in future?
It’s narrow to pull this in any particular commodity because then the value of the currency will rise and fall depending on the vagaries of the particular market. So, like a flood in a mine in South Africa will have a big impact. And that is like putting too many eggs into one basket. The least you would want is a broader commodity based basket that would be well diversified and would be able to withstand these kind of shocks. So certainly thinking about alternative benchmarks for units of account are worthwhile to do. But I wouldn’t want to put all of my eggs in one particular commodity basket, particularly a market like gold which is a very small one. Small shocks like a flood in a mine in South Africa could have a big impact on money supply. Hence, it doesn’t seem like a very stable system.
The near zero interest rates and the QEs have had a bigger impact on the assets markets than the credit markets and the real economy. Would you say it is building up some problem?
It is important that the Fed is aware about this and is looking into this. Jeremy Stein one of the governors of the Fed has been at the forefront trying to think about what indicators to look at, indicators that might raise red flags. Jeremy as well as his staff are thinking very carefully about that. Monitoring this very very closely is very important and I know that the Fed is. To be able to predict which markets will have a dislocation, it is impossible to do that. No one has that kind of foresight. But I do think there is much more focus on that today than there was in the past.
In another five six months it will be six years since the Lehman Brothers went bust. How long do you think the easy money policies will continue?
As Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke had said, whatever it takes, a corollary of that is as long as it takes. We have had a slow recovery than anyone had hoped for and that has been true not only in the US but many other countries as well. Some countries like India and some emerging markets that had done very well in the late 2000s have seen a significant fall in growth more recently. As the FOMC and Janet Yellen have said they are now on a path of tapering. It is very important to draw the distinction between tapering and tightening. The Fed had made a commitment to buy $85 billion worth of additional assets every month and that added nearly $1 trillion to the balance sheet every year. And with tapering now it is going to reduce the pace of that increase. So, it is not a tightening it just reducing the pace of additional accommodation. The additional accommodation is likely to wind down by the fourth quarter of this year and then depending on economic conditions, around six to nine months after that, the Fed might actually begin the process of tightening. But this is sort of a very gentle lengthy process. This is not a sudden shift of policy.

The interview originally appeared in the Forbes India magazine dated Jun 27, 2014


Five years after Lehman Brothers went bust, the same mistakes are being made

A logo of Lehman Brothers is seen outside its Asia headquarters in TokyoVivek Kaul 
Graham Greene’s fascinating book The End of an Affair starts with these lines: “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”
If the current financial crisis were a story (which it is) its beginning would be on September 15, 2008, when Lehman Brothers, the smallest of the big investment banks on Wall Street, went bust. It was the largest bankruptcy in the history of the world. Lehman Brothers started a crisis, from which the world is still trying to recover.
While the American government and the Federal Reserve(the American central bank) let Lehman Brothers go under, the got together to save AIG, one of the largest insurance companies in the world, a day later. This was followed by a spate of other rescues in the United States as well as Europe. These rescues cost the governments around the world a lot of money. As Mark Blyth writes in Austerity – The History of a Dangerous Idea “The cost of bailing, recapitalizing, and otherwise saving the global banking system has been depending on…how you count it, between 3 and 13 trillion dollars. Most of that has ended up on the balance sheets of governments as they absorb the costs of the bust.”
It’s been five years since Lehman Brothers went bust. Hence, enough time has elapsed since the financial criss started, to analyse, if any lessons have been learnt. One of the major reasons for the financial crisis was the fact that governments across the Western world ran easy money policies, starting from the turn of the century. Loans were available at low interest rates.
People went on a borrowing binge to build and buy homes and this led to huge real estate bubbles in different parts of the world. Take the case of Spain. Spain ended up building many more homes than it could sell. Estimates suggest that even though Spain forms only 12 percent of the GDP of the European Union (EU) it built nearly 30 percent of all the homes in the EU since 2000. The country has as many unsold homes as the United States of America which is many times bigger than Spain.
Along similar lines, by the time the Irish finished with buying and selling houses to each other, the home ownership in the country had gone up to 87%, which was the highest anywhere in the world. A similar thing happened in the United States, though not on a similar scale.
Housing prices in America had already started to fall before Lehman Brothers went bust. After that the fall accelerated. As per the Case-Shiller Composite-20 City Home Price Index, housing prices in America had risen by 76% between mid of 2001 and mid of 2006. The first time the real estate prices came down was in January 2007, when the Case-Shiller Composite-20 City Home Price Index suggested that housing prices had fallen by a minuscule 0.05% between January 2006 and January 2007. This fall came nearly two and half years after the Federal Reserve started raising interest rates to control the rise in price of real estate.
The fall gradually accentuated and by the end of December 2007, housing prices had fallen by 9.1% over a one year period. The fall continued. And by December 2008, a couple of months after Lehman went bust, housing prices, had fallen by 25.5%, over a period of three years. The real estate bubble had burst and the massacre had started. Similar stories were repeated in other parts of the Western world. Soon, western economies entered into a recession.
Governments around the world started tackling this by throwing money at the problem. The hope was that by printing money and putting it into the financial system, the interest rates would continue to remain low. At lower interest rates people would borrow and spend more, and this in turn would lead to economic growth coming back.

Hence, the idea was to cure a problem, which primarily happened on account of excess borrowing, by encouraging more borrowing. The question is where did this thinking come from? In order to understand this we need to go back a little in history.
As Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Lucas said in a speech he gave in January 2003, as the president of the American Economic Association: “Macroeconomics was born as a distinct field in the 1940s, as a part of the intellectual response to the Great Depression. The term then referred to the body of knowledge and expertise that we hoped would prevent the recurrence of economic disaster.”
Given this, the economic thinking on the Great Depression has had a great impact on American economists as well as central bankers. This is also true about economists across Europe to some extent.
In 1963, Milton Friedman along with Anna J. Schwartz, wrote 
A Monetary History of United States, 1867-1960, which also had a revisionist history of the Great Depression. What Friedman and Schwartz basically argued was that the Federal Reserve System ensured that what was just a stock market crash in October 1929, became the Great Depression.
Between 1929 and 1933, more than 7,500 banks with deposits amounting to nearly $5.7 billion went bankrupt. This according to Friedman and Schwartz led to the total amount of currency in circulation and demand deposits at banks, plunging by a one third.
With banks going bankrupt, the depositors money was either stuck or totally gone. Under this situation, they cut down on their expenditure further, to try and build their savings again. This converted what was basically a stock market crash, into the Great Depression.
If the Federal Reserve had pumped more money into the banking system at that point of time, enough confidence would have been created among the depositors who had lost their money and the Great Depression could have been avoided.
This thinking on the Great Depression came to dominate the American economic establishment over the years. Friedman believed that the Great Depression had happened because the American government and the Federal Reserve system of the day had let the banks fail and that had led to a massive contraction in money supply, which in turn had led to an environment of falling prices and finally, the Great Depression.
Hence, it was no surprise that when the Dow Jones Industrial Average, America’s premier stock market index, had a freak crash in October 1987, and fell by 22.6% in a single day, Alan Greenspan, who had just taken over as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of United States, flooded the financial system with money.
After this, he kept flooding the system with money by cutting interest rates, at the slightest hint of trouble. This led to a situation where investors started to believe that come what may, Greenspan and the Federal Reserve would come to the rescue. This increased their appetite for risk, finally led to the dotcom and the real estate bubbles in the United States.
In fact, such has been Friedman’s influence on the prevailing economic thinking that Ben Bernanke, who would take over as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, after Greenspan, said the following at a conference to mark the ninetieth birthday celebrations of Friedman in 2002. “I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”
At that point of time, Bernanke was a member of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System and hence, the use of the word “we”. What Bernanke was effectively saying was that in the days and years to come, at the slightest sign of trouble, the Federal Reserve of United States would flood the financial system with money.
And that is precisely what Bernanke and the American government did once the financial crisis broke out in September 2008. The Bank of England, the British central bank, followed. And so did the European Central Bank in the time to come. Recently, the Bank of Japan decided to join them as well.
Central banks around the world have been on a money printing spree since the start of the financial crisis in late 2008. Between then and early February 2013, the Federal Reserve of United States has expanded its balance sheet by 220%. The Bank of England has done even better at 350%. The European Central Bank came to the money printing party a little late in the day and has expanded its balance sheet by around 98%. The Bank of Japan has been rather subdued in its money printing efforts and has expanded its balance sheet only by 30% over the four year period. But during the course of 2013, the Bank of Japan has made it clear that it will print as much money as will be required to get the Japanese economy up and running again.
The trouble is that people in the Western world are not interested in borrowing money again. Hence, the little economic recovery that has happened has been very slow. The Japanese economist Richard Koo calls the current state of affairs in the United States as well as Europe as a balance sheet recession. The situation is very similar to as it was in Japan in 1990 when the stock market bubble as well as the real estate bubble burst.
Hence, Koo concludes that the Western economies including the United States may well be headed towards a Japan like lost decade. In a balance sheet recession a large portion of the private sector, which includes both individuals and businesses, minimise their debt. When a bubble that has been financed by raising more and more debt collapses, the asset prices collapse but the liabilities do not change.
In the American and the European context what this means is that people had taken on huge loans to buy homes in the hope that prices would continue to go up for perpetuity. But that was not to be. Once the bubble burst, the housing prices crashed. This meant that the asset (i.e. homes) that people had bought by taking on loans lost value, but the value of the loans continued to remain the same.
Hence, people needed to repair their individual balance sheets by increasing savings and paying down debt. This act of deleveraging or reducing debt has brought down aggregate demand and throws the economy in a balance sheet recession.
While the citizens may not be borrowing, this hasn’t stopped the financial institutions and the speculators from borrowing at close to zero percent interest rates and investing that money in various parts of the world. And that, in turn, has led to other asset bubbles all over the world.
These bubbles have benefited the rich. 
As The Economist points out “THE recovery belongs to the rich. It seemed ominous in 2007 when the share of national income flowing to America’s top 1% of earners reached 18.3%: the highest since just before the crash of 1929. But whereas the Depression kicked off a long era of even income growth the rich have done much better this time round. New data assembled by Emmanuel Saez, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Thomas Piketty, of the Paris School of Economics, reveal that the top 1% enjoyed real income growth of 31% between 2009 and 2012, compared with growth of less than 1% for the bottom 99%. Income actually shrank for the bottom 90% of earner.”
Once these bubbles start to burst, the world will go through another round of pain. Satyajit Das explains the situation beautifully 
in a recent column for the Financial Times, where he quotes the Irish author Samuel Beckett “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
To conclude, there are many lessons that history offers us. But its up to us whether we learn from it or not. As the German philosopher Georg Engel once said “What experience and history teach is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it”
And why should this time be any different?
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on September 16, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek) 

Wilful blindness links BCCI, Murdoch and Lehman Bros

sakshi-dhoni1Vivek Kaul 
News of the World was a British newspaper, owned by media moghul Rupert Murdoch, which published its last edition on July 10, 2011. The newspaper shutdown after it came to light that the employees of the newspaper had been hacking phones, using private investigators and even bribing the police to acquire confidential information, which could be turned into sensational news stories.
On July 19, 2011, nine days after 
News of the World shutdown, Rupert Murdoch and his son James, gave oral evidence to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport of the British Parliament. The Committee asked a stream of questions to the Murdochs.
Adrian Sanders, a member of the committee, asked the question number 269, which put the Murdochs in a lot of bother. This is how the brief conversation that followed the question went:
Q269 Mr Sanders: Finally, are you familiar with the term “wilful blindness”?
James Murdoch: Mr Sanders, would you care to elaborate?
Q270 Mr Sanders: It is a term that came up in the Enron scandal. Wilful blindness is a legal term. It states that if there is knowledge that you could have had and should have had, but chose not to have, you are still responsible.
James Murdoch: Mr Sanders, do you have a question? Respectfully, I just do not know what you would like me to say.

Q271 Mr Sanders: The question was whether you were aware—
James Murdoch: I am not aware of that particular phrase.

Q272 Mr Sanders: But now you are familiar with the term, because I have explained it to you.
James Murdoch: Thank you, Mr Sanders.
Rupert Murdoch: I have heard the phrase before, and we were not ever guilty of that.

In the days the discussion was picked up by the media and there was a lot of discussion around the topic. The Select Committee finally concluded that “If at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications.”
Before Murdochs were accused of ‘wilful blindness’ the term was used even for the Enron debacle by Judge Simeon Lake. Enron was an American company which went bust more than 10 years back after it came to light that it had been growing by simply fudging its numbers. Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay, the CEO and Chairman of Enron, pleaded that they just did not know what was going on in the company and hence could not be held responsible for it.
In his summary of the trial, Judge Lake told the jury that “
You may find that a defendant had knowledge of a fact if you find that the defendant deliberately closed his eyes to what would otherwise have been obvious to him. Knowledge can be inferred if the defendant deliberately blinded himself to the existence of a fact.” 
As Margaret Heffernan writes in 
Wilful Blindness- Why we ignore the obvious at our peril “Judge Lake was applying the legal principal of wilful blindness: you are responsible if you could have known, and should have known, something which instead you strove not to see. Skilling and Lay could have known, and had the opportunity to know, just how rotten their company was. Their claim not to know was no excuse under the law. Since they could have known, they were responsible…The law does not care why you remain ignorant, only that you do.”
The concept of ‘wilful blindness’ first appeared in the English courts in 1861. “A judge in 
Regina v. Sleep ruled that an accused could not be convicted for possession of government property unless the jury found that he either knew the goods came from government stores or had ‘wilfully shut his eyes to the fact’,” writes Hefferman. “Over time, a lot of other phrases came into play – deliberate or wilful ignorance, conscious avoidance and deliberate indifference. What they have all in common is the idea that there is an opportunity for knowledge and a responsibility to be informed, but it is shirked.”
In fact, the current case where three players of the Indian Premier League (IPL) team Rajasthan Royals have been accused of spot fixing, fits excellently into the concept of ‘wilful blindness’. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which runs the IPL has been trying to underplay the scandal and at the same time trying to distance itself from it. N Srinivasan, the President of BCCI, had this to say after the scandal broke out “We will do whatever is necessary. The sport is clean and we are running it clean. We have taken all the steps (to keep it clean). One or two bad eggs here and there cannot sully the entire game.”
The BCCI has taken pains to elucidate that the scandal concerns just one team i.e. the Rajashtan Royals and they have nothing to do it. That possibly also explains why the Rajasthan Royals have filed a first information report (FIR) against the three players and the BCCI has been doing nothing, except for holding meetings and appearing to talk tough.
The few bad eggs explanation has now ended up as an egg on the face of President Srinivasan as Mumbai Police gets ready to question Gurunath Meiyappan, who other than being the Team Principal of the best performing IPL team Chennai Super Kings (CSK) also happens to be married to Srinivsan’s daugther Rupa.
Srinivasan other than being the President of BCCI, happens to own the CSK team. Talk about conflict of interest. Gurunath, more popularly known as Prince Gurunath, is in trouble because of his close links to small time actor turned bookie Vindoo Dara Singh (more popularly known as Jack in betting circles).
While just knowing another person does not amount to guilt, but the fact that Singh had access to the inner echelons of CSK and was even seen watching a match seated next to Sakshi Dhoni (wife of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who also happens to be the captain of CSK ) does muddle the waters. Even within IPL circles Singh’s role as Jack was pretty well known (a senior functionary of an IPL team has said so clearly on Facebook). So wasn’t this an act of wilful blindness on the part of Srinivasan? Shouldn’t he have wondered what was a bookie doing inside the VIP section, sitting next to the wife of the captain of his cricket team?
The BCCI was also wilfully blind given that last year in a sting operation India TV, had shown that various fringe players in the IPL were ready to be bought for money. There were also allegations of spot fixing. The BCCI suspended some players, but beyond that nothing happened. Of course Srinivasan did make a strong statement. “We will not tolerate this nonsense. We have zero tolerance on corruption and you will not be disappointed by the action we take,” he said.
What makes all this even more interesting is the fact that BCCI is run by politicians from across parties. Sharad Pawar, Arun Jaitley, Rajeev Shukla, Anurag Thakur, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Narendra Modi, etc, are all a part of it. It is difficult to believe that they were totally unaware of what was going on in the league. In face of all this the explanation of there being only a ‘few rotten eggs’ doesn’t really hold.
Margaret Heffernan wrote a very interesting column for the Huffington Post in the aftermath of the Murdoch owned New of the World being shutdown. In this she pointed out that “After every institutional debacle, the arguments are the same: it was just a few bad apples. Nobody at the top is to blame. A few rogue, or over-zealous employees just went off piste. Then the full scale of the debacle emerges and another face-saving fiction emerges: no one could possibly have seen this coming. Both arguments were wrong in Abu Ghraib, at Enron, WorldCom, BP, Countrywide and Lehman Brothers and both are wrong today at News International.”
When the credibility of big institutions like BCCI is damaged, they tend to react in a very similar sort of way. They tend to blame it on a few rotten eggs, even though the entire institution has been wilfully blind.
As Heffernan wrote in another column for the Guardian: “Richard Fuld, the Lehman Brothers CEO, was also wilfully blind. He organised his life to ensure that he never encountered employees unexpectedly. The chief executive of Bear Stearns (a big Wall Street investment bank that went bust a few years back) chose not to implement a form of risk analysis that might actually have revealed how much debt the bank carried. And the Catholic church, when first confronted with the fact of child-abusing priests, chose first of all to take out insurance. All these institutions were blindsided by their choices – that is, they can’t blame their blindness on others.”
The same now stands true for the BCCI as well.
The article was originally published on www.firstpost.com on May 23, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek) 

…And That's How Government Sachs Rules the World

Bruce Wiseman is a man who wears many hats. He writes detective fiction under the pseudonym of John Truman Wolfe (www.johntrumanwolfe.com). He runs a market research, survey and positioning company (www.ontargetresearch.com). He has managed money for many Hollywood stars through the investment firm Wiseman & Burke. And if all this wasn’t enough he has recently written a bestselling book on the financial crisis titled Crisis by Design, The Untold Story of the Global Financial Coup. In this interview he speaks to Vivek Kaul on how the investment Goldman Sachs rules the world.
You talk about an incestuous link between Goldman Sachs and the American government. Could you explain that to our readers?
The Rolling Stone magazine recently published an article called “The Great American Bubble Machine,” a masterful exposé by Matt Taibbi revealing Goldman’s greed and corruption in the creation of several investment “bubbles” that have made the firm and its partners—the term filthy rich comes to mind—but which have been devastating to Americans and to the U.S. economy. I have no problem with people making money—barrels of the stuff. Boatloads. But this needs to be done with some sense of ethics, some sense of morals, some sense of responsibility toward one’s fellow man.
Could you elaborate on that?
The all too coincidental participation of Goldman executives in the creation of the financial crisis is something that Machiavelli himself would be proud of. Taibbi laid bare the army of Goldman alumni that have turned up at critical decision points in the universe of credit, investment and finance. His orientation was such that he omitted a few that I will tell you about. My focus has been exposing the actual cause of the worldwide financial crisis. And our paths have crossed at a few key junctures. Junctures that bring to mind the great Gordon Gekko—Michael Douglas’s character in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Douglas shares the philosophy of the successful investment banker:“Greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies and cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” Yeah, baby.
Could you give us an example?
I could start this part of the story with Henry Fowler, who, after serving as the 35thSecretary of the Treasury, in 1969 became a partner at Goldman after leaving office. But that’s not how things worked in the nineties and beyond. Oh no. The current sequence is very different. Pictures of Robert Rubin always remind me of the cartoon character Droopy. He seems to be in a perpetual state of sad worry. More to the point of our story, having served 26 years with Goldman Sachs, ascending to the position of co-chairman, Rubin came to Washington with the Clinton administration as the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. Bill must have dug the Wall Street touch, because in January of 1995, he appointed Rubin the 70th United States Secretary of the Treasury. This could be called the start of what the New York Times has referred to as the modern era of “Government Sachs.”
Government Sachs?
Allow me to explain. The hallmark of Rubin’s years in Washington was deregulation—specifically, deregulation of the financial industry. Turn the financial industry loose. Let the big dogs eat. Let them earn. They have Porsche payments to make. Working with Greenspan, he kept interest rates implausibly low and ensured that regulatory safeguards were gunned down like victims in an L.A. drive-by shooting. The Glass-Steagall Act is a prime example. A piece of the Great Depression-era legislation that kept investment banks and commercial banks from committing fiscal incest, it was repealed—charged with being out of touch with the global financial structure. What it was out of touch with was an agenda to open the floodgates to unbridled speculation by banks that set the industry up for a financial Hiroshima.
Would you like to add to that?
When Rubin was co-chairman of Goldman, the firm underwrote billions of dollars in bonds for the Mexican government. When the Mexican peso tanked a few years later, Rubin, as Secretary of the Treasury, arranged a multibillion-dollar taxpayer bailout, which, according to reports, saved Goldman a cool $4 billion. Even today, Goldman’s former co-chairman is advising Obama behind the scenes and his acolyte Timothy Geithner is in charge of the U.S. Treasury.
But Geithner never worked for Goldman Sachs…
Geithner worked for Rubin at Treasury during the Clinton administration and was a Rubin favorite. He then snagged the powerful presidency of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. It was Rubin who got Geithner the gig at the New York Fed and it was Rubin who hooked him up with Obama, who appointed him as his Secretary of the Treasury. In addition to Rubin, another former Goldman chairman,the controversial Jon Corzine, has been a top economic advisor to the current American President Barack Obama.
That’s quite a link…
Yup. And there is more to come. Given that Goldman employees gave more money to Obama ($994,000) than any other commercial enterprise in the United States, and that the White House is awash in Goldmanites. Even with the White House under control, Geithner beefed up his Goldman staff at Treasury. He named yet another Goldmanite as his chief of staff. Mark Patterson was selected to help him run the government’s financial circus. Patterson gave up his plum position as the vice president for Government Relations at Goldman—meaning he was the investment bank’s chief lobbyist—to become the number two man at Treasury.
What about Henry Hank Paulson, the Treasury Secretary of the United States, when the financial crisis broke out?
Before the news of the financial crisis began to go mainline in 2007, a new Goldman CEO descended from his throne on Wall Street to come to Washington and help his government manage the nation’s financial affairs. We love you, Hank. Viewed from the board rooms of Wall Street, Henry Paulson’s blitzkrieg of the nation’s capital was nothing short of stunning: a George Patton(a famous American World War II General) in pinstripes—except Patton was fighting a real enemy, not one that he himself had created. At first, he used PR spin to calm the multitudes. As the crisis began to unravel, in August 2007 Paulson assured the American people that the subprime mortgage problems were nothing to be concerned about, that they would remain contained due to the strong global economy. The stock market peaked two months later followed by a crash that wiped out trillions. In a television interview on Meet the Press on August 10, 2008, Paulson stated that he would not be putting any capital into Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Three weeks later, he took them over and committed $200 billion in bailout funds. When I was growing up, we’d call this kind of guy a “bullshit artist.”
Can you get into a little more detail?
Perhaps nothing so demonstrated this scam as the government bailout of American International Group (AIG), the country’s largest insurance company. On September 16,2008, Paulson coughed up $85 billion of your tax dollars to take control of AIG. The $85 billion loan got the government 80 percent ownership of the insurance giant. Just what I always wanted from my government, a bankrupt insurance company. It turns out the $85 billion wasn’t enough. AIG has continued to hemorrhage losses and Uncle has now poured a total of $182 billion into the insurance company. Sticky constitutional issues aside, many have found it more than curious that when the government granted the loan, AIG turned right around and paid it out to the investment banks to which it owed money. The bank that got the largest payout was . . . of course, Goldman Sachs—a cool $13 billion. The money simply passed from your paycheck to the U.S. Treasury, from the Treasury to AIG and from AIG to Goldman (and other banks). Paulson made sure the transfers would occur without any objection from AIG or unseemly negotiations with the banks. To do this, he tapped Goldman Sachs board member Ed Liddy to be the new CEO of AIG. The good-hearted Mr. Liddy took the gig for a dollar a year in salary from AIG. But he held on to his $3 million in Goldman stock.
That was one round about transaction…
Yup. Goldman made billions from AIG earlier as well. AIG didn’t know this. Neither did Goldman’s clients. You see, despite the fact that they had collected enormous fees selling financial products that were “insured” by AIG, Goldman simultaneously sold AIG short. You get this? On the one hand, they sold financial instruments to their clients, which carried high investment ratings because AIG insured the buyer against loss. At the same time, they made investment “bets” for their own account against AIG. Estimates are that they made $4.7 billion betting against AIG while selling the AIG-guaranteed products to their clients.
Anything else that you would want to point out?
Paulson pushed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) through the House and Senate—winding up with a cool $700billion to “save” the banks. Congress’s actions remind me of a bad Godzilla movie, with masses of panicked Japanese citizens fleeing the fire-breathing monster, which is lumbering through the city toppling buildings and devouring cars. The legislation drafted by our elected officials sounds like something issued to Stalin by the Politburo. They granted Paulson complete dictatorial powers over the bailout money. The TARP read in part: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”
But where does Goldman fit in here?
Calling the multibillion-dollar bailout a “stimulus” program is but a cruel joke. This was nothing more complicated than a coup—a transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars from American taxpayers into the Armani-clad arms of major Wall Street banks. You won’t be surprised to learn, I’m sure, that Goldman Sachs got a cool $10 billion of TARP funds. And if you followed the billions pouring from your paychecks to Wall Street, you might remember that Bank of America at first received $25 billion. Then, in the midst of the chaos, they agreed to purchase Merrill Lynch. As it turned out, however, Merrill’s losses were $15 billion more than Bank of America had expected. This was due in part to $4 billion in bonuses paid out by Merrill’s CEO, John Thain, who pushed the bonuses through his books just before the Bank of America deal closed. Bank of America was taken by surprise by the losses and the purchase of Merrill Lynch started to go shaky, to which Comrade Paulson coughed up another $20 billion of your tax dollars. You guys are so cool bailing out these banks. I mean it. It brings tears to my eyes. Oh, I should mention that John Thain, the guy who pushed through the last-minute billions in bonuses, had been the president and co-chief operating officer at Goldman Sachs before becoming the president of Merrill Lynch.
So Goldman Sachs is everywhere?
Yup. Pretty much. Joshua Bolten, was the Chief of Staff of former President George Bush. Bolten had become Chief of Staff in April of 2006 and is credited with persuading the President to recruit Paulson as the Treasury Secretary. No surprise, since Bolten had been the executive director, Legal & Government Affairs for Goldman Sachs International before joining the Bush 2000 presidential campaign. The president of the World Bank is Robert Zoellick. Prior to joining the World Bank, Zoellick served as vice chairman, international, of the Goldman Sachs Group. Incest doesn’t begin to say it. From the White House to Treasury, from the New York Fed to AIG, from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to the New York Stock Exchange, Goldman is there.
You talk about 19 men controlling the financial affairs of the whole world. Who are these people?
They are the Board of Directors of the Bank for International Settlements. They are listed on the Bank’s website, but Helicopter Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner are on the Board, as was Greenspan. And it is the newly created Financial Stability Board, operating as an arm of the Bank for International Settlements, that now structures and dictates the rules and regulations to be carried out by the central banks of the world. And given the fact that central banks essentially operate independently of their national congresses or parliaments, the FSB now controls the monetary policy of the planet. It is now, for all practical purposes, the Politburo of international finance.
Where is Goldman Sachs in this?
Who is the chairman of this little known entity based in Basel, Switzerland? Mario Draghi. Draghi was a partner at Goldman Sachs until, like Henry Paulson, he left Goldman in 2006. Paulson took over the U.S. Treasury and Draghi became the governor of the Bank of Italy (Italy’s central bank) and in April of this year, chairman of the Financial Stability Board. Draghi is also a member of the board of directors of the Bank for International Settlements. In fact, the BIS board reads like a Goldman reunion committee. Mark Carney had a 13-year career with Goldman Sachs, where he became the managing director of Investment Banking before becoming the governor of the Bank of Canada and a member of the BIS board. William Dudley, president of the New York Fed and former partner at Goldman Sachs, is also a member of the board, along with Draghi.
So they are there everywhere…
Yup. Gary Gensler the current head of the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission in the United States spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs. In May of 2007, the granddaddy of stock markets, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), bought Euronext (a pan-European stock exchange with subsidiaries in Belgium, France, Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom), which, now branded as NYSE Euronext, operates the largest securities exchange on the planet. To run the show, the newly combined entity brought in Duncan Niederauer and appointed him chief executive officer. Niederauer had been a partner and managing director at Goldman Sachs before joining NYSE Euronext. And there you have it. Complete financial control of U.S. financial policy and markets, from the White House and Treasury to the New York Fed, the New York Stock Exchange and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (Control of the World Bank along with the most powerful member of the International Monetary Fund (the US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner), and at the top of the fiscal food chain, the Bank for International Settlements and its Financial Stability Board.
(The interview was originally published in the Daily News and Analysis(DNA) on June 25,2012. http://www.dnaindia.com/money/interview_how-government-sachs-rules-the-world_1706239)
(Interviewer Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])