Sunday, March 15, 2009

Boston Globe Article: Financial Doomsday Machine

This machine, which Elaine Meinel Supkis calls the Derivatives Beast, is threatening to undo the whole entire global economy. At its peak valuation, it was valued at more than one quadrillion dollars.

Globe Article:

If government doesn't do more, and fast, this could be worse than the
1930s. Why? There are three big reasons: [Ed-M: HAHAHA. As if the US Gov't, head over heels in debt and promises that will create more debt, can break this downturn without causing China et al to dump our foreign-held debts. The problem was practicing Keynsian Economics (deficit spending, a little inflation) without any
Anti-Keynsian economics (surplusses, a little deflation) for almost 65 years except '69 and '99, running trade deficits galore, and failing to stomp on bubbles with both feet when they first begin to form!]

Finance: A Doomsday Machine. The financial system is in far worse shape than it was when the stock market crashed in October 1929. In the 1920s, there was a stock market bubble, mainly because people could play the market "on margin," borrowing to invest in stocks. There were also scams like the original Mr. Ponzi's. Like in the present decade, the Federal Reserve helped to enable the game, with low interest rates and few rules. [Ed-M: So did the bank of Japan! It has run Zero Percent Interest Rate lending since '95 fer cryin' out loud. Result was the whole freakin' PLANET was awash in easy credit (read: cheap money for the asking!) and ended up in various bubbles, like the dotcom bubble, the housing bubble, and the recent commodities bubble, which, when it burst, cause the price of all commodities except precious metals to plummet.]

But today, thanks to "securitization" of loans and the ability of insiders to create exotic and unfathomable financial instruments, the speculative system makes buying stocks on margin look like child's play. In the aftermath of the crash of 2008, the process of sorting it all out and getting banks functioning again is something that markets simply cannot do. We are not even clear who owns what. The wise guys on Wall Street invented a doomsday machine from which there is no market escape.

In 1929 when the stock market crashed, the banking system was relatively healthy. Bank customers played these speculative games and took the losses, not banks. This time, the banks drank their own Kool-aid. [Ed-M: Here Mr. Kuttner gets it right! Bravo! Decades from now, if we're not all DEAD or back in the Stone Age by then, we'll be analysing what went wrong and exclain, "How could those banks be so colossolly stupid as to buy and sell credit default swaps, normal and 'synthetic' CDOs, MBSs and the like to and from each other?" Well it's easy. The computer whizzes who invented these things had to please their gnomish bosses! Who only wanted to get (more) rich.]....

Roosevelt was said to be a big spender, but his biggest peacetime deficit was only about 6 percent of GDP. This year, the deficit will exceed 11 percent, and the recession will deepen all year. It took the truly massive deficits of World War II - nearly 30 percent of GDP - to finally end the Great Depression. [Ed-M: Actually the Great Depression ended in 1939, when the European factories went to producing all armaments, forcing Europe to import consumer goods from US!]....

During the bubble years, the foreign borrowing disguised domestic weaknesses, such as our much-diminished manufacturing sector. For now, foreigners are still willing to lend us vast sums, but that may not continue indefinitely. [Ed-M: And CHINA, the biggest holder of our debts, has already expressed concern over our overspending. Won't be long now...]

Happy Lost Decade, everyone! May we NOT utterly collapse into a Stone Age, or kill everyone off in a thermonuclear WWIII, wherein the heavens would disappear with a roar, and the elements melt with fervent heat, and the Earth and all the works therein get burnt.

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