Posts Tagged ‘foreclosures’

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William D. Cohan’s broadside [ht: ja] against Bernie Sanders hinges on a simple, but fundamentally wrong, argument: we all benefit from the risks taken by Wall Street.

Simply put, Wall Street’s purpose is to re-allocate capital from people who have it (savers) to those who want it (borrowers) and then use it to grow businesses that employ billions of people around the globe and help give them a modicum of wealth that they did not have before. One man’s speculation, in other words, is another man’s risk-taking. Without people willing to take those risks, and having the chance to reap their reward, there wouldn’t be an Apple, a Google, a Facebook, or countless other large corporations. The billions of people around the world who are employed by thriving companies would lose their jobs.

Clearly, Cohan doesn’t understand Wall Street (or, for that matter, the rest of the financial sector). It doesn’t collect capital from one group of savers and allocate it to another group of borrowers, which then creates jobs. Rather, it recycles the surplus created by people who work in order to allow those who appropriate the surplus to collect even more. In other words, Wall Street manages the surplus on behalf of a small group of wealthy individuals and large corporations. And it grows its own profits not as a reward for taking risks but by taking a cut of each and every financial transaction.

As we know, Wall Street does in fact take risks, as it did in the lead-up to the crash of 2007-08. But the risks were borne not by Wall Street, but by the rest of us—in the form of massive layoffs and foreclosures.

What about the other part of the argument, that Wall Street helps businesses grow?

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As it turns out, Matthew C. Klein addressed this issue just about a year ago. His argument, in short, is that productivity growth in rich countries started slowing down around the same time that the financial sector’s share of economic activity started rising rapidly.

First, the high salaries commanded in the financial sector — much of which can be attributed to too-big-to-fail subsidies and other forms of rent extraction — make it harder for genuinely innovative firms to hire researchers and invest in new technologies.

Second, the growth of the financial sector has been concentrated in mortgage lending, which means that more lending usually just leads to more building. That’s a problem for aggregate productivity, since the construction industry is one of the few that has consistently gotten less productive over time.

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In other words, as illustrated in the chart above, the growth rate in productivity was systematically faster when the finance sector was relatively smaller (from 1948 to 1975), and then when the finance sector got bigger, productivity growth got smaller (from 1976 to 2014).

The ultimate irony is that Cohan actually makes Sanders’s case for breaking up Too Big to Fail banks and reigning in Wall Street:

Sanders is right that Wall Street still needs reform. The Dodd-Frank regulations fail to measure up; Wall Street lobbyists and $1000-an-hour attorneys work away each day to gut the meager reforms signed into law by President Barack Obama in July 2010. It is also unconscionable that Wall Street’s compensation system continues to reward bankers, traders, and executives to take big risks with other people’s money in hopes of getting big year-end bonuses. Thanks to this system, which has been prevalent since the 1970s, when Wall Street transformed itself from a bunch of undercapitalized private partnerships (where those partners had serious capital at risk every day) to a group of behemoth public companies (where the risk is borne by creditors and shareholders while the rewards go to the employees), Wall Street has become ground zero for one financial crisis after another.

Neither Sanders nor I could have said it better.

 

Watch this magnificent performance by Rebirth, a poetry ensemble of high-school-age Chicago teens, featuring Simone Allen, Semira Allen, Maya Dru, Adam Ross, Onam Lansana, and Nile Lansana. They are affiliated with the community arts program at the Logan Center.

“Money Has No Heart” was performed on 8 March 2014, during the 2014 Louder Than A Bomb teen poetry festival, organized by Young Chicago Authors. The Olympics-style poetry competition started with 120 teams from the city of Chicago and the suburbs.

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Yep, they’re still battling over the terms of the bank bailout—and rightly so.

The current battle is between Team Tim (Geithner) and Team Neil (Barofsky), the actual bailout of the banks versus the never-enacted bailout of homeowners, with Matt Yglesias stepping in to try to referee the dispute.

Team Tim would say that they’re trying to create a well-capitalized banking system in order to bolster the broader economy. Team Neil counters that the broader economy would be better served by a policy that imposed steep losses on banks and instead repaired household balance sheets. Beneath all the anger and accusations and counter-accusations is a fairly wonky policy disagreement about the relative importance of household balance sheets versus the credit channel to laying the preconditions for growth.

So who’s right? I think this is actually a much more difficult question than partisans on either side are willing to acknowledge. Team Tim has bolstered their argument with the overblown notion that homeowner bailouts “launched the Tea Party” via Rick Santelli and are therefore politically impossible and thus one doesn’t even really need to address the merits of the case. On the other hand, Team Neil has never really presented a coherent alternative course of action that takes real account of the consequences of imposing very large losses on the banks. From the original winter 2008-09 argument over bank nationalization along Swedish lines, I’ve rarely heard it acknowledged that these courses of actions would likely have required hundreds of billions of dollars in additional “bailout” money. I think that still would have been the optimal policy, but it’s not a no-brainer and I think the administration’s left-wing critics would have been very disappointed if the White House made universal health care take a back seat to a second round of bank equity injections.

What Matt fails to recognize is that the bailout of the homeowners could have been made a precondition for the bailout of the banks.

I actually agree that, in the fall of 2008, the banks needed to be bailed out. Otherwise, the entire world economy could have come tumbling down.* I do think we came that close. At the same time, Washington was in the position to require that the banks write down the mortgages they’d profited from during the preceding decade. And, if the banks wouldn’t agree to that condition, they could have been nationalized.

That’s the simple policy option neither administration followed. Not Bush (with Paulson, Bernanke, and Geithner), and not Obama (with Geithner, Bernanke, and Dudley).

And now we’re paying the consequences, in the midst of the Second Great Depression.

*Let them lie in the beds they made? Well, the problem was, the rest of us were under the beds and would have been crushed if they had collapsed.

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Jefferson Park, Chicago

As another sign we’re in the midst of the Second Great Depression, home foreclosures in Illinois and around the country are on the rise again.

Illinois home foreclosure activity rose 29 percent in May compared to the previous month and is 54 percent higher than May of 2011.

A report released Thursday by Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac shows Illinois with 16,318 foreclosure filings last month. Filings include default notices, auction-sale notices and bank repossessions.

The filings represent one in every 325 housing units in the state, fifth highest nationally.

RealtyTrac says the jump signals a “bumpy ride” but that new foreclosure starts are likely to end up as short sales or auction sales rather than bank repossessions. . .

Foreclosure rates in Chicago worsened to one in every 252 housing units, fourth-highest among the nation’s 20 largest metro areas.

Nationally, lenders initiated foreclosure proceedings against more U.S. homeowners in May, setting the stage for increases in home repossessions and short sales — scenarios that could further weigh down home values in coming months.