Financial News

As predicted, Republican Senators, plus DINO Ben Nelson, voted as a block yesterday to stop financial reform legislation from going forward. Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill that Harry Reid is scheduling more votes on financial reform and daring Republicans to keep filibustering.

Bolton writes that “Reid also voted against the motion because of a procedural technicality” that will allow him to bring the measure up again for consideration. So if any wingnuts are saying “Reid voted against it, too,” that’s why.

Brody Mullins writes for the Washington Journal,

For the first time since 2004, the biggest Wall Street firms are now giving most of their campaign donations to Republicans.

A Wall Street Journal analysis of 12 large financial services companies, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. shows that they have collectively made $1.4 million in political donations, with 52% going to Republicans so far this year. That’s a reversal from last year, according to the most recent round of fund-raising reports covering January, February and March.

Apparently David Brooks wrote a column about the latest revelations from the financial crisis. I haven’t read it, but Kevin Drum writes,

Brooks has the causation backward here, I think. The establishment didn’t miss the housing bubble because of generic groupthink. It missed the housing bubble because of a specific case of groupthink: the nearly unanimous belief that markets can’t be wrong. Thus, if the market price of housing is going up, it had to be the case that housing prices should be going up. All that was left was to invent reasons to explain skyrocketing property prices, and the establishment did that in spades. But it was market delusion that drove establishment delusion, not the other way around.

Righties speak of “the free market” as if it were a natural ecosystem that will always right itself if mankind (the government) doesn’t interfere. And this is the foundational financial delusion. “Markets” have no existence except in the plans and machinations of human beings, which means they don’t inherently do anything. Put another way, “markets” are simply an effect created by humans, and everything that happens in markets happens because a person or people caused it to happen. So markets are as sane, or as crazy, or as wise, or as deluded, or as thrifty, or as greedy, as the people actively taking part in them. One can find certain behavioral consistencies reflected in markets, but this is because there are certain behavioral consistencies in humans.

10 thoughts on “Financial News

  1. I once read of a study that fascinated me as much as Milgram’s experiment that had an actual subject administering electro-shock of various levels to hidden but non-existent subjects on command by some authority figure.

    I am still searching for it but it involved players in a scenario that offered a pile of money and a tasks to be performed. Players bid on the tasks, were paid according to performance, and any remaining money would be divided evenly amongst players at the conclusion of play.

    Invariably players underbid to get the largest amount of money, had too much on their plates to perform and made less profit than if they had just waited on their proportionate share after having bid lower and gotten a smaller % of the work on which they could have performed better.

    There are so many morals in this that it’s almost hard to dissect but it seems to say something about market players. Maybe they sometimes act contrary to even their own enlightened self interest. On the other hand, if they have enough influence to sway those evaluating performance (i.e. escape regulation) then the greed can work awfully well for them to the detriment, not only of other players, but also of those who are beneficiaries of the work.

    That study demonstrated how human foibles can usurp this dubious mathematical perfection of totally free, unfettered markets.

  2. Do see Heresthetics at GinAndTacos:

    Many years ago a famous political scientist named William Riker (who I bet never tired of Star Trek related jokes) coined the term “heresthetics” to describe the process of “structuring the world so you can win.”

    The best example in recent years is the successful efforts to brand third trimester abortions “partial birth” abortions by the National Right to Life Committee in the mid-nineties. Nobody is going to support something called a partial birth abortion. So the efforts by the NRLC and Chuck Canady to saturate the media and political spheres with the term – one that was simply made up by an NRLC lawyer – structured the debate so that they could easily win it, hence the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. They succeeded in defining the debate, and consequently the issue was debated when, where, and how the NRLC wanted. Well played.

    To see an even clearer example we need look no farther than today’s headlines. Frank Luntz’s talking points have so totally defined the debate over financial reform that there is no plausible way to reach any outcome that is less than a smashing victory for our Too Big to Fail banking institutions.

    Everyone – and I mean everyone, from Krugman to to Ambinder to Obama to the average liberal on the street – is conducting this debate according to the terms set by the Senate GOP and their masters. Just look at the primary point of contention with the proposed reform bill, the $50 billion “cleanup” fund for the next time our lending institutions walk up to the button labeled “DO NOT PRESS” and press the living hell out of it. Republicans have followed Luntz’s advice to call this a “bailout” in what Krugman has not-so-implausibly called <a href="”>possibly the most dishonest argument in the history of politics….

    Yesterday you posted a piece about creating a social movement. This kind of thing above , which amounts to labelling reality with emotionally laden and intellectually dishonest labels, along with a powerful megaphone to program this into the masses, along with willing dupes (the Tea Partiers) to astroturf their own phoney social movement, is what we’re up against. Furthermore, they’ve essentially co-opted the majority of politicians (even Barack Obama to some degree) into their camp.

    Years ago, Frank Zappa wrote a song called I am the Slime, which was about the perniciousness of television. Frank I’m sure had no idea how horribly prescient this little ditty would come to be. Among the many powerful verses in this song, don’t go for help, no one will heed you comes to mind when dealing with the right’s reality distortion machine.

  3. Perfect ‘take’ on that ludicrous thing called the ‘free market,’ maha.

    “…if market prices of housing are going up, it had to be the case that housing prices should be going up,” could easily have been said by that classic fool, Dr. Pangloss, “It’s impossible for things not to be as they are, for everything is for the best.” (Oh, and did I tell you that on the news this morn the weather guy said either it will rain tomorrow or it won’t?)

    Pat – I have this on my fridge “In theory, theory and practice are the same thing, but in practice they’re not.” Also, there’s a book out (haven’t read it yet) by Shermer, “Why People Believe Weird Things,” in which he makes the provocative comment that “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” Smart asses take note.

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  5. If you extend rightie thinking to the extreme:
    As individuals, all humans are physical manifestations of freedom and free will, and are in every interaction with one another involved in free markets.
    And yet, we have laws. Someone, somewhere, surely long before Hammurabi, came up with codes of conduct and law, which, in effect, are regulations on both individual and group behaviour.
    Why? Because people, again, individually or in groups, can and do act irrationally – that is, against their best interests. (This incidentally, is a great explanation for the Republican Party and their success. No wonder they’re agianst regulation).
    If we have a “Ten Commandments” for human behaviour, and they love those regulations (on paper, at least); why are they for regulating “moral” behaviour of individuals and society, yet against regulating financial behaviour for the same?
    I”m just citing one more example of the need not only for financial regulations, but for campaign finance reform. “And there in lays the rub….”

  6. Way to go Harry Reid. Make the repugs shoe their true colors. And make the lobbist show theirs. So many people have been hurt by the greed in wall street and banking industry that we all realize the hazards of totaly unregulated finance of our country.

  7. To be fair. many Hayekian market fundamentalists will acknowledge that there will be booms and busts around a TENDENCY towards equilibrium, and that markets have casualties. They just insist that any interference in the market will cause even worse problems. The reason they are in a minority in the economics discipline is that their arguments don’t stand up to empirical examination.

  8. I have to wonder if Nelson wasn’t giving the middle finger to the Democrats and POTUS over HCR. Nebraska went strong for McCain – and 51% in NE ‘strongly’ disapprove of HCR. Ben pulled off the swindle of all time – the ‘Cornhusker Kickback’, which would have exempted Nebraska from footing the bill on expansions to Medicaid. It was a deal and it got axed by the election of the teabagger in MA – because that paved the way for the use of reconciliation. So this crook from Nebraska sells his vote blatently – with the expectation he will either receive the swag or vote against the bill if a compromise in the House deprives him of his loot.

    Lo and behold, by the intevention of Divine Providence, the excuse to go to reconcilliation appears AFTER he has voted – and he is deprived of his precious pound of flesh. And the voters of NE are furious because Nelsons vote made HCR possible. (Remind me to send Ben an X-mas card.)

    But we are going to see a surly Sen. Nelson.

  9. Of course, as we saw again today at the Goldman hearing, the establishment “groupthink” missed the housing bubble because quite a few of those who saw the bubble decided to make a financial killing out of it, and that depended on encouraging the rubes not to notice it.

    It wasn’t just about a religious (and simplistic) belief in “the market”, part of it was about scoundrels consciously taking advantage of the freedoms they’d gotten after years of lobbying to dismantle or otherwise cripple governmental oversight to get rich and stick others with the bill.

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