Monday, April 27, 2009


Paul Krugman had a column in the New York Times yesterday titled Money for Nothing. In the column he talks about how the banking indusrty has gone from being a staid, rather boring business that paid no better, on average, than other industries, to an industry that grossly rewarded with immense wealth for what were termed as their contributions to society.

On July 15, 2007, The New York Times published an article with the headline “The Richest of the Rich, Proud of a New Gilded Age.” The most prominently featured of the “new titans” was Sanford Weill, the former chairman of Citigroup, who insisted that he and his peers in the financial sector had earned their immense wealth through their contributions to society.

Soon after that article was printed, the financial edifice Mr. Weill took credit for helping to build collapsed, inflicting immense collateral damage in the process.

....we should be disturbed....that pay at investment banks, after dipping last year, is soaring again — right back up to 2007 levels.

.....there’s no longer any reason to believe that the wizards of Wall Street actually contribute anything positive to society, let alone enough to justify those humongous paychecks. Remember that the gilded Wall Street of 2007 was a fairly new phenomenon. From the 1930s until around 1980 banking was a staid, rather boring business that paid no better, on average, than other industries, yet kept the economy’s wheels turning.

.....why did some bankers suddenly begin making vast fortunes? It was, we were told, a reward for their creativity — for financial innovation. At this point, however, it’s hard to think of any major recent financial innovations that actually aided society, as opposed to being new, improved ways to blow bubbles, evade regulations and implement de facto Ponzi schemes.

Consider a recent speech by Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, in which he tried to defend financial innovation. His examples of “good” financial innovations were (1) credit cards — not exactly a new idea; (2) overdraft protection; and (3) subprime mortgages. (I am not making this up.) These were the things for which bankers got paid the big bucks?

Still, you might argue that we have a free-market economy, and it’s up to the private sector to decide how much its employees are worth. But this brings me to my second point: Wall Street is no longer, in any real sense, part of the private sector. It’s a ward of the state, every bit as dependent on government aid as recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a k a “welfare.”

So what’s going on here? Why are paychecks heading for the stratosphere again? Claims that firms have to pay these salaries to retain their best people aren’t plausible: with employment in the financial sector plunging, where are those people going to go?

No, the real reason financial firms are paying big again is simply because they can. They’re making money again (although not as much as they claim), and why not? After all, they can borrow cheaply, thanks to all those federal guarantees, and lend at much higher rates.

So, what I see happening here is that as long as the banks are allowed to continue to borrow from the Federal Reserve at a very low rate, lower than either you or I would be able to, and then loan out that same money at much higher (or inflated) rates, they will continue grossly overpay their executives for doing absolutely nothing. Because that's the way the business is now set up. Reward the wealthy for stealing from the taxpayers, the working class, and the poor.

The rest of Paul's column can be found here.


A World Quite Mad said...

I read an article the other day that banks are fighting legislation to make all student loans be issued directly through the government, so to cut out the middle man. They apparently make a killing off of FFEL loans, at the expense of the tax payer and the needy college student.

Grandpa Eddie said...

AWQM - Because all the regulations and restrictions were taken off the financial industry they feel that they have some divine right to have total control of all financing of everything.

If you have a link to that article, could you post it here in a comment? I'd like to take a look at it.

Riot Kitty said...

I love Paul Krugman. Your headline really does say it all. Amen!

Grandpa Eddie said...

Riot kitty - I really like Paul, too. I think he would have been a better choice for Treasury Sec.

A World Quite Mad said...

I can't find the exact article again, but this one has the general idea, and some of Obama's remarks. The one I read the other day had some commentary from some bank rep going on about how terrible this will be for the banks, but I can't find it now. You can read other articles about it by googling "ffel" and "banks fighting student loans" etc.

Here's another one similar to what I read. Is it any wonder I can't find it since everything on yahoo!News, which I think is where I saw it, has been buried by swine flu.

Grandpa Eddie said...

Thanks AWQM, I'll check those out.