Monday, March 16, 2009

Robert Kuttner on the AIG Scandal

From the Huffington Post:
But the outrage over the AIG bonuses is a sideshow. The larger problem, both financially and politically, is the entire strategy for rescuing the banks.

It would be hard to imagine two administrations seemingly more opposite than the Bush and the Obama presidencies. Yet Geithner's approach is essentially a continuation of the failed strategy of Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Geithner's former close colleague in Geithner's prior role as president of the New York Fed.

In defending the AIG bonuses, CEO Edward Liddy actually said that you had to pay bonuses to attract and keep "the best and brightest talent," in this case the very people who are costing America's taxpayers $175 billion and counting. Far from receiving bonuses, these people deserve to share a cell with Bernie Madoff.

By the same token, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner are not the only smart people about finance. If President Obama wants a second opinion, he could begin with Paul Volcker, nominally chairman of Obama's own "Economic Recovery Advisory Board," which so far is mainly window-dressing. According to my sources, Summers and Geithner seldom talk to Volcker because they don't like Volcker's criticisms of their plan.

The president could also consult with several people in the Federal Reserve System who have a different view, and also the FDIC leadership, and the Congressional Oversight Panel that was created by Congress as the precondition for appropriating the TARP money. The panel has the statutory right to get documents from the Treasury. But under Geithner as under Paulson before him, Treasury has been stonewalling. Legislators of both parties are increasingly viewing Geithner as part of the problem.

As the administration continues its coziness with Wall Street and the approach fails to bring zombie banks back to life, populist anger passes to both the Republicans and to media tribunes such as Lou Dobbs. This brand of populism is one part anti-Wall Street, but two parts anti-government and anti-immigrant. It has no strategic coherence as a recovery plan.

The alternative to Lou Dobbs' brand of populism is of course Franklin Roosevelt's. But something is really off when Sen. Sam Brownback, the AEI, and the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank start sounding more like Roosevelt than Barack Obama's treasury secretary does.

Obama needs to get a second opinion, firsthand.