I love it when a reporter catches a high-profile official letting down his guard:
SEWARD, NE—Claiming he wasn’t afraid to let everyone in attendance know about “the real mess we’re in,” Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke reportedly got drunk Tuesday and told everyone at Elwood’s Corner Tavern about how absolutely fucked the U.S. economy actually is.
Bernanke, who sources confirmed was “totally sloshed,” arrived at the drinking establishment at approximately 5:30 p.m., ensconced himself upon a bar stool, and consumed several bottles of Miller High Life and a half-dozen shots of whiskey while loudly proclaiming to any patron who would listen that the economic outlook was “pretty goddamned awful if you want the God’s honest truth.”
“Look, they don’t want anyone except for the Washington, D.C. bigwigs to know how bad shit really is,” said Bernanke, slurring his words as he spoke. “Mounting debt exacerbated—and not relieved—by unchecked consumption, spiraling interest rates, and the grim realities of an inevitable worldwide energy crisis are projected to leave our entire economy in the shitter for, like, a generation, man, I’m telling you.”
“And hell, as long as we’re being honest, I might as well tell you that a truer estimate of the U.S. unemployment rate is actually up around 16 percent, with a 0.7 percent annual rate of economic growth if we’re lucky—if we’re lucky,” continued Bernanke, nearly knocking a full beer over while gesturing with his hands…
…Numerous bar patrons slowly nodded in agreement as Bernanke went on to suggest the United States could pass three or four more stimulus packages and “it wouldn’t even matter.”
“You think that’s going to create long-term economic growth, let alone promote job creation?” Bernanke said. “We’re way beyond that, my friend. There are no jobs, okay? There’s nothing. I think that calls for another drink, don’t you?”
While using beer bottles and pretzel sticks in an attempt to explain to the bartender the importance of infusing $650 billion into the bond market, the inebriated Fed chairman nearly fell off his stool and had to be held up by the patron sitting next to him.
Another bargoer confirmed Bernanke stood about 2 inches from her face and sprayed her with saliva, claiming inflation was going to “totally screw” consumer confidence and then asking if he could bum a smoke.
“Sure, we could hold down long-term interest rates and pursue a program of quantitative easing, but c’mon, we all know that’s not going to make the slightest bit of difference when it comes to output, demand, or employment,” Bernanke said before being told to “try to keep [his] voice down” by the bartender. “And trust me, with the value of the U.S. dollar in the toilet, import costs going through the roof, and numerous world governments unprepared for their own substantial debt burdens, shit’s not looking too good for us abroad, either.”
“God, I’m so wasted,” added Bernanke, resting his head on the bar.
Customers at the bar told reporters the “shitfaced” and disruptive Bernanke refused to pay for his drinks with U.S. currency, claiming it was “worthless.” Witnesses also confirmed that near the end of the evening, Bernanke put money into the jukebox and selected Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” to play five times in a row.
And who knew Bernanke and I had similar tastes in music?
Excellent interview here in the Times with this most decent of bureaucrats. She understood why the bailouts were not just wrong but unnecessary:
As she thinks back on it, Bair views her disagreements with her fellow regulators as a kind of high-stakes philosophical debate about the role of bondholders. Her perspective is that bondholders should take losses when an institution fails. When the F.D.I.C. shuts down a failing bank, the unsecured bondholders always absorb some of the losses. That is the essence of market discipline: if shareholders and bondholders know they are on the hook, they are far more likely to keep a close watch on management’s risk-taking.
During the crisis, however, Treasury and the Fed were adamant about protecting debt holders, fearing that if they had to absorb losses, the markets would be destabilized and a bad situation would get even worse. “What was it James Carville used to say?” Bair said. “ ‘When I die I want to come back as the bond market.’ ”
“Why did we do the bailouts?” she went on. “It was all about the bondholders,” she said. “They did not want to impose losses on bondholders, and we did. We kept saying: ‘There is no insurance premium on bondholders,’ you know? For the little guy on Main Street who has bank deposits, we charge the banks a premium for that, and it gets passed on to the customer. We don’t have the same thing for bondholders. They’re supposed to take losses.” (Treasury’s response is that spooking the bond markets would have made the crisis much worse and that ultimately taxpayers have made out extremely well as a consequence of the government’s actions during the crisis.)
She had a second problem with the way the government went about saving the system. It acted as if no one were at fault — that it was all just an unfortunate matter of “a system come undone,” as she put it.
“I hate that,” she said. “Because it doesn’t impose accountability where it should be. A.I.G. was badly managed. Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were badly managed. And not everyone was as badly managed as they were.”
Paulson, Bernanke and Geithner come across as callous SOBs when it comes to taxpayer funds, whose only concerns are for their friends in banking.
This next bit I do not agree with:
Grudgingly, Bair acknowledged that some of the bailouts were necessary. There was no way, under prevailing law, to wind down the systemically important bank-holding companies that were at risk of failing. The same was true of a nonbank like A.I.G., which the government wound up bailing out just two days after allowing Lehman Brothers to fail. An A.I.G. bankruptcy would have been disastrous, damaging money-market funds, rendering giant banks insolvent and wreaking panic and chaos. Its credit-default swaps could have brought down much of the Western banking system.
“Yes, that was necessary,” Bair said. “But they certainly could have been less generous. I’ve always wondered why none of A.I.G.’s counterparties didn’t have to take any haircuts. There’s no reason in the world why those swap counterparties couldn’t have taken a 10 percent haircut. There could have at least been a little pain for them.” (All of A.I.G.’s counterparties received 100 cents on the dollar after the government pumped billions into A.I.G. There was a huge outcry when it was revealed that Goldman Sachs received more than $12 billion as a counterparty to A.I.G. swaps.)
Bair continued: “They didn’t even engage in conversation about that. You know, Wall Street barely missed a beat with their bonuses.”
“Isn’t that ridiculous?” she said.
Yes, there would have been additional pain and panic had there been no bailouts at all, but we would also have cleared the banking system of bad debt and well into a real recovery by now, instead of this jobless GDP/QE faux recovery. When banks fail en masse, it’s not the end of the world – assets just move from weak to more competent hands. There were plenty of strong banks that were gyped of well-deserved deposits that should have fled crappy behemoths. The pre-Fed, pre-FDIC era saw the fastest growth and improvement in living standards of modern history because of this creative destruction, so it is a sign of the times that the most conservative, taxpayer-freindly politician or bureacrat with any significant power (unlike Ron Paul) is still in favor of bailouts.
Here’s a bit from a post I made in October 2008, when this was all going down:
What will happen if government doesn’t lift a finger?
The owners of McMansions will lose them to the banks or other mortgage holders, and those mortgage holders, if they bought the paper with loans of their own, will lose them to others, and so on. Almost every bank in the world will fail. They have all come to depend on deposit insurance and central banks to cover for the fact that they have been reckless and insolvent from nearly day one. There will be no bank lending at all.
What will happen to the depositors? Well, almost all of their money will be lost.
So, that is what we are looking at: every bank failing, zero bank lending, almost all the money in the world going to heaven. How is that not the end of the world? Simple: It is a reverse split. In 2006, let’s say, there was a million dollars in total bank deposits. Then in 2008 all the banks go under. All that is left is the cold cash in people’s pockets, let’s say $100,000 in all.
That remaining cash becomes extremely valuable. It has to work where one million did before. If you had $10 in your pocket and $90 in the bank, you now treat each dollar as if it were ten. The key is that so does everyone else. The world still has its unit of account and medium of exchange, we have just moved the decimal point over on all prices. (Note: gold and silver would rapidly re-enter circulation and quickly become the preferred money, as they always do until government outlaws them).
Of course, deflation on this scale makes debts unpayable, so essentially all debt is defaulted upon, but of course most creditors are bankrupt too. Contracts have to be renegotiated or annulled. No big deal, really. The assets are all still there, just the same as before. Nothing has burned down. A car bought on credit still gets the same mileage as before its loan went bad, a house keeps you just as dry.
Trust the prudent and smart, not bankers and politicians.
Such an event brings about a massive transfer of wealth from the reckless to the prudent and farsighted, who are exactly the people you want making the decisions about what to do with money and assets after the crash. They are statistically and philosophically the best equipped to decide what will generate the highest returns with the lowest risk. Life goes on. There is nothing to rebuild because nothing was destroyed. It is all just reordered in a more sensible fashion. The house in the desert is scrapped for materials. The Lehman mortgage traders find something productive to do, like drive cabs.
But that outcome is so quaint, so 1800s, so gold standard. We’re more scientific today. Bernanke is a wise economist. Congress is benevolent. War is peace, and lies are truth.
For those who haven’t seen this yet, it’s classic Grant: eloquent and merciless. The Fed doesn’t need PhD’s, he says, but should be run by someone with a bachelor’s degree in the law of unintended consequences.
Some great comments on the OMB (“lying on their forecasts”), Geithner (“who has a mortage on a house not far from mine… who didn’t understand risk and real estate prices”), Summers (“uses wrong mathematics in his papers” and has “systemic arrogance”), and Bernanke (“the one who crashed the plane”).
He has praise for David Cameron, whom he thinks understands how to solve the crisis.
Plenty of fodder for inflationists and bond bears here: Hard assets like metals and agricultural land would be a good way to protect value. Forget the stock market and most real estate.
Does anybody, such as professors, now understand the issues he raises? No. Don’t go to business school, but if you go, don’t take any business class that has equations in it: “it’s all bogus.”
The charts below come via Mish’s post today on why it doesn’t matter that Bernanke wants to eliminate bank reserve requirements. The quick answer: Greenspan already did that in 1994 when he allowed overnight sweeps on checking accounts to free them from reserve requirements just like savings accounts. In this era, banks lend first and look for reserves later.
Anyway, way back in 2007 I first became convinced that this would be a deflationary depression because of this simple equation: there was $52 trillion in outstanding debt in the US, and only (at the time) $850 billion in base money (all the “cash” that the Fed had created since it was founded in 1913). As defaults and write-downs started to reduce the amount of debt, the Fed was likely to create new money to bail out banks and monetize deficits. It was plain to see that the difference in scale betwean the two pools, debt and cash, would tip the scales in favor of deflation, along with a shift in attitude towards frugality and a new respect for the value of a dollar.
Well, here we are in 2010, and the Fed has indeed created a fresh $1.2 trillion, but the debt pile has stopped growing over the last year, even taking into account the massive issuance of treasury debt. This chart comes from Karl Denninger:
I suspect that if properly marked to market, the private debt figures (household, business credit and financial instruments) would be considerably lower. There is a lot of pretending going on at banks, since they do not want to take write-downs. How much of that household credit card and mortgage debt will really be paid off?How much of those financial instruments are junk (and even investment-rated) bonds that will be defaulted on in the next few years? How many business loans are in arrears or just barely being made?
On the other side of the equation, here is the base money supply since 1999:
If reserve ratios mattered, wouldn’t debt have at least doubled (or more if you believe in the multiplier effect)? The fact is, nobody who can handle a loan wants one, and nobody who wants one can handle it.
Credit conditions and risk appetite are what drive lending, not reserves. Banks simply don’t hold reserves anymore, which is why bubbles get so out of hand and why they are always a few bad loans away from bankrupcy. If bankers’ asses and depositors’ funds were on the line like in the 1800s, you better believe banks would hold reserves. Depositors would sniff out those that tried to scimp, and take their funds elsewhere, nipping any trouble in the bud. Busts were frequent and localized, and freed up capital for productive hands. That’s why that era produced the greatest improvement in living standards and real GDP growth of 3-4% while prices were steady to falling for decades.
Here’s another chart that shows our state of debt saturation from Nathan’s Economic Edge. GDP no longer grows with debt — this is the point of no-return where interest can no longer be serviced with production, so the whole thing starts to collapse.
So Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold are against Bernanke… good for them, but it doesn’t make any difference which egghead reads the February and July speeches to Congress when the very existence of a central bank is the problem.
Here’s what should be done with the Fed:
For your amusement, here’s Bernanke a couple of years ago doing his best to downplay our problems:
To the dismay of many a fair-minded observer, Bernanke the Fool has been nominated for another term as Fed chairman. My comment is, so long as there is a Fed, who cares who runs it? The chairman, like the US President, is nothing but a figurehead. He provides lip service for policies that exclusively benefit the cartel of big banks. Thus it has been since the Morgan, Schiff, Warburg and Rockefeller syndicates conspired in 1913 to draft the Federal Reserve Act and ram it through Congress two days before Christmas.
I’m a little bit surprised that Bernanke was nominated again, since there is such low public opinion towards him and his employer. I thought that he might be thrown to the dogs to satisfy the public’s urge for ‘change,’ but I guess the logic is that by keeping him on they can better preserve the fiction that the Fed saved the world. He is also very lucky that the nomination schedule coincided with the likely peak in Wave 2 sentiment (2nd waves are characterized by the near consensus that the old trend is back to stay, in this case, the Great American Bull Market).
Along the same line, I’m also surprised that the campaign to audit the Fed hasn’t found more support from the White House, since it would be the perfect PR opportunity for them to pretend that they were independent of the bankers. I half expect to see the audit happen, with the results decided in advance of course, something akin to past Congressional “investigations.” Maybe they will have to do something like this once mood sours again with the next wave of foreclosures, bank failures and panic selling in the markets.
The real campaign should be to end the Fed, not audit it. We already know what it does, and they are actually surprisingly transparent for such a sinister institution. It’s all right there on their website.
(thanks again to zerohedge for finding this video)
I remember when I first discovered a speech by Ron Paul back in boom-time 2005, and was shocked that a Congressman was so eloquently warning of the dangers of fractional reserve lending, the Federal Reserve system, and welfare/warfare deficit spending. It was the first time that I could fully respect a standing politician.
Dr. Paul is still the nation’s strongest voice for an honest monetary and banking system, and he delivered a zinger in front of Bernanke and Frank yesterday. If, like me, you haven’t heard him speak in a while, have a listen and you’ll remember why his campaign was so exciting for so many of us.
Money quote: “I would suggest that the problems we have faced so far are nothing compared to what it will be like when the world not only rejects our debt, but our dollar as well. That’s when we’ll witness political turmoil that will be to no one’s benefit.”
Now wouldn’t it be great to have Peter Schiff to cause the same trouble in the Senate?