Tag Archives: Paul Volcker

Paul Volcker: Do The Right Economic Thing

By Simon Johnson

A great deal of the popular anger directed at big banks is completely legitimate, as put nicely by John Cassidy at the end of his interview with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner,

“The hardest part of his job, Geithner often says, is getting people to comprehend the inner logic of a financial-rescue operation, and the unpopular actions it entails. In fact, his problem may be not economic illiteracy but its opposite: Americans understand all too well what has happened. Financial crises have a way of revealing aspects of our economic system that otherwise remain obscured, such as the symbiotic relationship between Wall Street and Washington, the hidden subsidies that financial firms sometimes receive from the Fed and other government agencies, and the fact that the vast profits that firms like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman generate depend in part on an implicit guarantee from the taxpayer. When ordinary Americans are confronted with these realities, they get angry.”

Paul Volcker is also angry. Continue reading

Who Will Tell The President? Paul Volcker

By Simon Johnson: link to NPR radio interview (and book excerpt) on how 13 Bankers got their hands on so much political and economic power - and why this spells serious danger for the rest of us.

Against all the odds, a glimmer of hope for real financial reform begins to shine through.  It’s not that anything definite has happened – in fact most of the recent Senate details are not encouraging – but rather that the broader political calculus has shifted in the right direction.

Instead of seeing the big banks as inviolable, top people in Obama administration are beginning to see the advantage of taking them on – at least on the issue of consumer protection.  Even Tim Geithner derided the banks recently as,

“those who told us all they were the masters of noble financial innovation and sophisticated risk management.”

In part this is window dressing.  But in part it recognizes political opportunity – the big banks are unpopular because they remain completely unreformed and unrepentant.  And in part it responds to a very real danger – Senator Dodd’s bill is so obviously weak on “too big to fail” issues that it will be hard to paint its opponents as friends of big banks.

Senator Richard Shelby knows this and is taking the offensive.  The administration can convert an easy win into an own goal if it fails to toughen substantially Senator Dodd’s bill.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to address this issue. Continue reading

The Brown Amendment: Do the Volcker Rules Live?

The administration may be distancing itself from the Volcker Rules, but the same is not true of all Senators.  (Why did President Obama go to the trouble of endorsing Mr. Volcker’s approach to limiting risk and size in the banking system, if his key implementers – led by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner – were going to back down so quickly?)

Among a number of sensible amendments under development in the Senate, Senator Sherrod Brown (D., OH) proposes the following language: (update: text now attached)

“LIMIT ON LIABILITIES FOR BANK HOLDING COMPANIES AND FINANCIAL COMPANIES.—No bank holding company may possess non-deposit liabilities exceeding 3 percent of the annual gross domestic product of the United States.”

And a few paragraphs later, an essential point is made clear: this includes derivatives,

“OFF-BALANCE-SHEET LIABILITIES.—The computation of the limit established under subsection (a) shall take into account off-balance-sheet liabilities.”

And there is a strong provision for requiring prompt corrective action if any bank exceeds this hard size cap.

Naturally, the Federal Reserve is pushing back. Continue reading

Volcker And Bernanke: So Close And Yet So Far

By Simon Johnson

In case you were wondering, Paul Volcker is still pressing hard for the Senate (and Congress, at the end of the day) to adopt some version of both “Volcker Rules”.  It’s an uphill struggle – the proposed ban on proprietary trading (i.e., excessive risk-taking by government-backed banks) is holding on by its fingernails in the Dodd bill and the prospective cap on bank size is completely missing.  But Mr. Volcker does not give up so easily – expect a firm yet polite diplomatic offensive from his side (although the extent of White House support remains unclear), including some hallmark tough public statements.  It’s all or nothing now for both Volcker and the rest of us.

But at the same time as the legislative prospects look bleak (although not impossible), we should recognize that Paul Volcker has already won important adherents to his general philosophy on big banks, including – most amazingly of late – Ben Bernanke, at least in part.  In a speech Saturday, Bernanke was blunt,

“It is unconscionable that the fate of the world economy should be so closely tied to the fortunes of a relatively small number of giant financial firms. If we achieve nothing else in the wake of the crisis, we must ensure that we never again face such a situation [like fall 2008].” Continue reading

Paul Volcker Prevails

Paul Volcker, legendary central banker turned radical reformer of our financial system, has won an important round.  The WSJ is now reporting:

President Barack Obama on Thursday is expected to propose new limits on the size and risk taken by the country’s biggest banks, marking the administration’s latest assault on Wall Street in what could mark a return — at least in spirit — to some of the curbs on finance put in place during the Great Depression.

This is an important change of course that, while still far from complete, represents a major victory for Volcker – who has been pushing firmly for exactly this.

Thursday’s announcement should be assessed on three issues. Continue reading

More from “The Lion”

In the short days between Christmas and New Year’s, BusinessWeek published an interview with Paul Volcker conducted by Charlie Rose headlined “The Lion Lets Loose.” Rose asked him why the U.S. economy has fallen behind in some areas, such as manufacturing. Here’s the segment:

“How did that happen?
“What happened is our best and brightest got attracted to Wall Street. You’ve read about those big bonuses. These are generalizations, but I do think that the pull of Wall Street on bright young people, ambitious young people, has been tremendous.”

Continue reading

Paul Volcker Picks Up A Bat

For most the past 12 months, Paul Volcker was sitting on the policy sidelines.  He had impressive sounding job titles – member of President Obama’s Transition Economic Advisory Board immediately after last November’s election, and quickly named to head the new Economic Recovery Board

But the Recovery Board, and Volcker himself, have seldom met with the President.  Economic and financial sector policy, by all accounts, has been made largely by Tim Geithner at Treasury and Larry Summers at the White House, with help from Peter Orszag at the Office of Management and Budget, and Christina Romer at the Council of Economic Advisers.

With characteristic wry humor, Volcker denied in late October that he had lost clout within the administration: “I did not have influence to start with.”

But that same front page interview in the New York Times contained a well placed shock to then prevailing policy consensus.  Continue reading