David Stockman, former budget director in the Reagan administration, argues persuasively that the fundamental problems of the financial system are worse than in 2008.
The “too big to fail” banks have become bigger, politicians have been bought and paid for, an entitled class of Wall Street financiers are being served by government policies and a massive amount of economic resources are being allocated into financial speculation at the expense of society as a whole.
The full interview with David Stockman can be accessed through the above video link. Selected commentary from his interview follows. Most Americans know that something is fundamentally flawed with the current financial and political systems and are likely to agree with David Stockman’s analysis.
Moyers & Company explores the tight connection between Wall Street and the White House with David Stockman, former budget director for President Reagan.
Now a businessman who says he was “taken to the woodshed” for telling the truth about the administration’s tax policies, Stockman speaks candidly with Bill Moyers about how money dominates politics, distorting free markets and endangering democracy. “As a result,” Stockman says, “we have neither capitalism nor democracy. We have crony capitalism.”
Stockman shares details on how the courtship of politics and high finance have turned our economy into a private club that rewards the super-rich and corporations, leaving average Americans wondering how it could happen and who’s really in charge.
“We now have an entitled class of Wall Street financiers and of corporate CEOs who believe the government is there to do… whatever it takes in order to keep the game going and their stock price moving upward,” Stockman tells Moyers.
DAVID STOCKMAN: A massive amount of resources are being devoted, being allocated or being channeled into pure financial speculation that has no gain to society as a whole, has no real economic contribution to the process by which GNP is created, GDP is created and growth occurs.
By 2007 40 percent of all the profits in the American economy were coming from finance companies. 40 percent. Historically it was 15 percent.
So the financialization means that as we attracted more and more resources and capital, and we made speculation easier and easier, and we funded it with almost free overnight money, managed and manipulated by the Fed, that’s how the economy got financialized. But that is a casino. Casinos — they’re, you know, places for people to go if they want to speculate and wager. But they’re not part of a healthy, constructive economy.
And we need not only a reinstitution of Glass-Steagall, but even a more serious limitation on banks. And what I mean by that is, that if we want to have a way for, you know, average Americans to save money without taking big risks and not be worried about the failure of their banking institution, then there can be some narrow banks who do nothing except take deposits, make long-term loans or short-term loans of a standard, business variety without trading anything, without getting into all of these exotic derivative instruments, without putting huge leverage on their balance sheet.
And we need to say simply, that if you’re a bank and you want to have deposit insurance, which ultimately, you know, is backed up by the taxpayer — if you’re a bank and you want to have access to the so-called “discount window” of the Fed, the emergency lending, then you can’t be in trading at all.
Now, on the other hand, if they want to be a hedge fund, then they’ve got to raise risk capital and they have to take the consequences of their risks, both to the good side and the bad side. And until we really approach that issue, and dismantle these giant, multi-trillion dollar balance sheet banks, and separate retail and deposit insured banking from just financial companies, we’re going to have recurring bouts of what we had in 2008.
And they haven’t even begun to address that, and it’s so disappointing to see that the Obama administration, which in theory should’ve had more perspective on this than a Republican administration under Bush, to see that one, they appointed in the key positions the same people who brought the problem in: Geithner and Summers and all of those, and secondly, that Obama did nothing about it.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by the free money that banks are using overnight?
Well, by that we mean when the Fed, the Federal Reserve sets the so-called federal funds rate at ten basis points, where it is today, that more or less guarantees banks can go into the Fed window, the discount window, and borrow at ten basis points.
And then you take that money and you buy a government bond that is yielding two percent or three percent. Or buy some corporate bonds that are yielding five percent. Or if you want to really get aggressive, buy some Australian dollars that have been going up. Or buy some cotton futures. And this is really what has been going on in our markets.
The cheap funding, which is guaranteed by the Fed, the investment of that cheap funding into speculative assets and then pocketing the spread. And you can make huge amounts of money as long as the music doesn’t stop. And when the music stops then all of a sudden, the cheap, overnight money dries up. This is what’s happening in Europe today. This is what happened in 2008.
And then people are stuck with all these risky assets, and they can’t fund them. They owe cash to the people they borrowed overnight from or on a weekly basis. That’s what creates the so-called contagion. That’s what creates the downward spiral. Now, unless we let those burn out, it’ll be done over and over. In other words, if, you know, if a lesson isn’t learned, then the error will be repeated over and over.
BILL MOYERS: The Bush administration came to the rescue of some of the county’s largest financial institutions, to the tune of 700 billion tax-payer dollars.
DAVID STOCKMAN: We elect a new government because the public said, you know, “We’re scared. We want a change.” And who did we get? We got Larry Summers. We got the same guy who had been one of the original architects of the policy in the 1990s, the financialization policy, the too big to fail policy.
Who else did we get? We got Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury. He had been at the Fed in New York in October 2008 bailing out everybody in sight. General Electric got bailed out. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, all of the banks got bailed out, and the architect of that bailout then becomes the Secretary of the Treasury. So it’s another signal to the financial markets that nothing ever changes. The cronies of capitalism are in charge of policy.
The Congress is owned lock, stock and barrel by one after another, after another special interest. And they logically say how can we expect, you know, anything good to come out of this kind of process that seems to be getting worse. So how do we turn that around? I think it’s going to take, unfortunately a real crisis before maybe the decks can be cleared.
BILL MOYERS: But on the basis of the record, the lessons of the past. The experience you have just recounted and are writing about. Do you see any early signs that we might turn the ship from the iceberg?
DAVID STOCKMAN: No. I think we’ve learned no lessons. We really have not restructured our financial system. The big banks that existed then that were too big to fail are even bigger now. The top six banks then had seven trillion of assets, now they have nine or ten trillion.
Rather than go to the fundamentals which have been totally neglected– we’ve simply kind of papered over the current system and continued the game of having the Federal Reserve and the Treasury if necessary prop up all of this leverage and speculation, which isn’t helping the economy.
And when we talk about zero interest rates. That’s not helping Main Street. Our problem in this economy is not our interest rates are too high. The zero interest rates are just more fuel for leverage speculation for what’s called the carry trade and that is causing windfall benefits to the few but it’s leaving the fundamental problems of our economy in worse shape than they’ve ever been.