Tag Archives: Summers

Firefighter Arson And Our Macroeconomic Policymakers

Firefighter arson is a serious problem.  The U.S. Fire Administration, part of Homeland Security, concluded in 2003, “A very small percentage of otherwise trustworthy firefighters cause the very flames they are dispatched to put out” (p.1). Illustrative and shocking anecdotes are on pp. 9-15 of that report, as well as here and here.

Macroeconomic policy making now has a similar issue to confront. Continue reading

Today’s Foundation, Tomorrow’s Crisis: The Geithner-Summers Proposals

Writing in the Washington Post this morning, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers outline a five point plan for dealing with the underlying problems in our financial system, entitled A New Financial Foundation. 

The authors are not completely clear on what they think caused the current crisis, but you can back out some points from their reasoning – and the implicit view seems quite at odds with reality.

  1. Their view: Regulation is overly focused on safety and soundness of individual banks.  Reality: There was a complete failure of safety and soundness supervision.  This must be fundamental to any financial system – without this, you’ll get mush every time. Continue reading

Is Larry Summers The Next Gordon Brown?

Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, is in big trouble.  It turns out that a medium-sized industrialized democracy like the UK can be run in pretty much the same way as a traditional emerging market – fiscal irresponsibility (cyclically-adjusted general government deficit now forecast at 12.2 percent of GDP for 2010) gives you a boom for a while, but the eventual day of reckoning is economically painful and politically disastrous.  If you also need to deal with an oversized bubble finance sector, that makes the adjustment even more painful.

It is of course sensible to use fiscal stimulus to offset a fall in private demand, and to some extent this can be effective – with a lag.  But if you lose control over public spending and borrow too heavily (helped by the fact people like to hold your currency), it ends badly.

From the beginning, we’ve expressed concern here that the entire Summers Plan was overweight fiscal, i.e., not enough resources for recapitalizing banks and addressing housing directly (for the context of this assessment, see our full baseline view).  Back in December/January, this was a strategic choice worth arguing about; now it’s a done deal and following the (very) limited recapitalization outcome of the bank stress tests, it seems likely that household and firm spending will remain sluggish.  If that is the case, the Administration’s logic implies throwing another big fiscal stimulus into the mix – and the Summers’ team is already preparing the groundwork.

The IMF is now warning against the risks of this approach, albeit using carefully worded language. Continue reading

Is Everyone Confused Yet? (Bank Stress Tests)

The public relations campaign packaging the bank stress tests is kicking into high gear and our professional information managers are really hitting their stride.  They face, of course, a classic spin problem: you need to get the information out there, but you don’t want to be too definitive on the first day or soon after – if you’re easy on the banks, that looks bad; if you’re tough on the banks, that might be dangerous.

The best way to handle this is by jamming your own signal – which they are starting to do in brilliant fashion.  To the WSJ you leak that BoA needs to raise a great deal of capital ($35bn); they run this story on the front page, next to a great frown on the face of Ken Lewis.  But you tell the FT that Citi will need “to raise less than $10bn” (note that the on-line FT version of this story, as of 8:30am Eastern, seems to have been adjusted downwards relative to the print edition that arrived at my house 4 hours ago.)  The NYT yesterday sounded quite upbeat.

Of course, deliberately or inadvertently confusing people is made much easier by the fact that the experts are in sharp disagreement.  Goldman’s Jan Hatzius says that the worst is now behind us in terms of loss recognition and pre-provision earnings will be much higher in the US than they were in Japan during the 1990s – here he and others are taking on the IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report.  And he has two good points in this regard, Continue reading

Larry Summers’ New Model

Larry Summers spoke on Friday afternoon at the InterAmerican Development Bank in Washington DC.  As he was addressing a group with  much experience living through and dealing professionally as economists with major crises, he spoke the “language of economics” (as he called it) and largely cut to the analytical chase.

Summers made five points that reveal a great deal about his personal thinking – and the structure of thought that lies behind most of what the Administration is doing vis-a-vis the crisis.  Some of this we knew or guessed at before, but it was still the clearest articulation I have seen. Continue reading