Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Looting of the U.S. economy: Les Leopold


1."Honest, we didn't do it!" 
Two years ago Wall Street's colossal greed crashed our economy. Our financial elites created and spewed highly leveraged toxic assets around the globe. These poisonous "innovations" pumped up the housing bubble and Wall Street grew insanely rich in the process. When it all burst, we learned that the big Wall Street institutions that had caused the crash were far too big to fail -- and too connected. High government officials came to their rescue with trillions in cash and guarantees -- underwritten, of course, by we taxpayers. Everyone knew this at the time. But if you asked just about anyone on "The Street" they denied all culpability and pointed the finger everywhere else: Fannie, Freddie, the Fed, the Community Reinvestment Act, tax deductions for home buying, bad regulations, not enough regulations, too many regulations, too much consumer debt, the rating agencies, the Chinese -- and on and on. Sadly, their blame-shifting strategy worked, bamboozling the media and people across the political spectrum. The GOP members of the Financial Crisis Commission are so drunk with this Kool-Aid that in their minority report, they refuse even to use the words "Wall Street" or "speculation" in assessing the causes of the crash. Hypocrites? Crooks? Morons? Take your pick.

2."The overall costs will be incredibly small in comparison to almost any experience we can look at in the United States or around the world." 
Ever since Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner screwed up his tax returns we knew he was numerically challenged. But his statement to Congress on December 16, 2010, on the cost of the bailout shows a willful inability to count. Yes, Wall Street has paid back most of our bailout funds. Whoopee! Our economy is in shambles, and millions of people are suffering. With his offensive "no big deal" analysis, Geithner glosses over all this human misery, and sidesteps the hidden costs of the bailout, including the financial insurance we taxpayers provided to every giant financial company in the country via the Fed. On the open market, that insurance -- which guarantees trillions of dollars in toxic assets -- would come at a very steep price. We coughed it up for free. But that's still chump change compared to the human costs of the worst employment crisis since the Great Depression -- the lost income, the depleted savings, the ravaged neighborhoods. Then there's the capsized state and local budgets, the public service reductions, the laid off teachers, firefighters and police officers -- all resulting from a plunge in public revenues caused by Wall Street's crash. Why aren't these costs on Geithner's balance sheet? A cynic might think Tim was priming us to accept the latest round of Wall Street bonuses. Hey -- they paid us back, so why should we care how much they earn?
Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009. He is currently working on a new book, How to Earn $900,000 an Hour: The Rise of Wall Street Billionaires and the New Class War, (hopefully to be published in 2011).
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