by ilene - September 21st, 2010 4:20 pm
Courtesy of Steve Randy Waldman at Interfluidity
Last Monday, I had the privilege to meet up with a bunch of bloggers and Treasury officials for what might be described as a “rap session”. The meeting was less formal than a previous meeting. There were no presentations, and no obvious agenda. Refugees from the blogosphere included Tyler Cowen, Phil Davis, John Lounsbury, Mike Konczal, Yves Smith, Alex Tabarrok, and myself. Our hosts at Treasury were Lewis Alexander, Michael Barr, Timothy Geithner, Matthew Kabaker, Mary John Miller, and Jake Siewart. You will find better write-ups of the affair elsewhere [Konczal, Lounsbury (also here), Smith, Tabarrok]. Treasury held another meeting, with a different set of bloggers, on Wednesday.
It is bizarro world for me to go to these things. First, let me confess right from the start, I had a great time. I pose as an outsider and a crank. But when summoned to the court, this jester puts on his bells. I am very, very angry at Treasury, and the administration it serves. But put me at a table with smart, articulate people who are willing to argue but who are otherwise pleasant towards me, and I will like them. One or two of the “senior Treasury officials” had the grace to be a bit creepy in their demeanor. But, cruelly, the rest were lively, thoughtful, and willing to engage as though we were equals. Occasionally, under attack, they expressed hints of frustration in their body language — the indignation of hardworking people unjustly accused. But they kept on in good spirits until their time was up. I like these people, and that renders me untrustworthy. Abstractly, I think some of them should be replaced and perhaps disgraced. But having chatted so cordially, I’m far less likely to take up pitchforks against them. Drawn to the Secretary’s conference room by curiosity, vanity, ambition, and conceit, I’ve been neutered a bit. There’s an irony to that, because some of the people I met with may have been neutered, in precisely the same way and to disastrous effect, by their own meetings and mentorings with the Robert Rubins and Jamie Dimons of the world.
by ilene - November 22nd, 2009 1:55 pm
According to SIGTARP1, both the Federal Reserve and Treasury agreed that an AIG failure posed unacceptable risk to the global financial system and the U.S. economy. On March 24, 2009, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before the House Financial Services Committee [P.9]:
[C]onceivably, its failure could have resulted in a 1930’s-style global financial and economic meltdown, with catastrophic implication[s].
From July 2007, AIG’s financial situation deteriorated while so-called “AAA” collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) dropped in value. AIG sold credit default swaps (CDSs) on these CDOs and had to post more collateral, as the prices plummeted.
Goldman Sachs was AIGFP’s (UK-based AIG Financial Products) largest CDS counterparty with around $22.1 billion, or about one-third of the problematic trades. Goldman underwrote some of the CDOs underlying its own CDSs, and also underwrote a large portion of the CDOs against which French banks SocGen, Calyon, Bank of Montreal, and Wachovia bought CDS protection. Goldman provided pricing on these CDOs to SocGen and Calyon. Goldman was a key contributor to AIG’s liquidity strain and the resulting systemic risk. (See “Goldman’s Undisclosed Role in AIG’s Distress”)
By mid September 2008, AIG’s long-term credit rating was downgraded, its stock price plummeted, and AIG couldn’t meet its borrowing needs in the short-term credit markets. According to SIGTARP, “without outside intervention, the company faced bankruptcy, as it simply did not have the cash that was required to provide to AIGFP’s counterparties as collateral.” [P.9] The Federal Reserve Board with Treasury’s encouragement authorized a bailout. 2
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) extended an $85 billion revolving credit facility, so AIG could make its collateral payments to Goldman and some of its CDO buyers. AIG also met other obligations, such as payments under its securities lending programs owed to Goldman and some of its CDO buyers. (See also: “AIG Discloses Counterparties to CDS, GIA, and Securities Lending Transactions.”)
Goldman “Would Have Realized a Loss”
Fed Chairman Bernanke said AIG’s crisis put the world at risk for a global financial meltdown. Goldman purchased little credit default protection3 against an AIG collapse. Even if Goldman escaped a collateral clawback of the billions it held from AIG4, the
by ilene - November 7th, 2009 2:53 am
Wondering what happened at the bloggers-Treasury officials’ get-together? Here’s Steve Randy Waldman’s account of the meeting. – Ilene
Courtesy of Steve Randy Waldman of Interfluidity
On Monday, I was among a group of eight bloggers who attended a discussion with "senior Treasury officials" in Washington. Several nice accounts of that meeting have already been posted (see roundup below). Here’s mine.
First, I’d like to thank the "senior Treasury officials" for taking the time to meet with us, and for being very gracious hosts. Whatever disagreements one might have, in statistical if not moral terms it was an extreme privilege to sit across a conference table and have a chance to speak with these people. And despite the limitations of the event, I’d rather there be more of this kind of thing than less. So a sincere tip o’the hat to all of our hosts. Thank you for having us.
The second thing I’d like to discuss is corruption. Not, I hasten to add, the corruption of senior Treasury officials, but my own. As a slime mold with a cable modem, it was very flattering to be invited to a meeting at the US Treasury. A tour guide came through with two visitors before the meeting began, and chattily announced that the table I was sitting at had belonged to FDR. It very clearly was not the purpose of the meeting for policymakers to pick our brains. The e-mail invitation we received came from the Treasury’s department of Public Affairs. Treasury’s goal in meeting with us was to inform the public discussion of their past and continuing policies. (Note that I use the word "inform" in the sense outlined in a previous post. It is not about true or false, but about shaping behavior.)
Nevertheless, vanity outshines reason, and I could not help but hope that someone in the bowels of power had read my effluent and decided I should be part of the brain trust. The mere invitation made me more favorably disposed to policymakers. Further, sitting across a table transforms a television talking head into a human being, and cordial conversation with a human being creates a relationship. Most corrupt acts don’t take the form of clearly immoral choices. People fight those. Corruption thrives where there is a tension between institutional and interpersonal ethics. There is "the…