US economic decline overshadows IMF-World Bank meeting
US economic decline overshadows IMF-World Bank meeting
By Nick Beams
The annual spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank held in Washington over the weekend comprised the treasurers and central bankers, together with financial experts and analysts, from all the major capitalist economies. However not a single proposal was advanced from this high-level meeting to alleviate, let alone resolve, the mounting problems besetting global capitalism.
21 April 2014
The reason is not hard to find. The meetings were dominated by the ongoing disintegration of the very structures of the post-war economic order of which the IMF and the World Bank have constituted two major pillars.
While it was not officially on the agenda, the announcement by China that it had secured the
agreement of 57 countries to become founding members of its proposed Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was a hot topic of discussion in the backrooms and corridors, especially at the World Bank.
The IMF and World Bank have been the two most prominent institutions reflecting the economic primacy of the US in the post-war world. But the establishment of the AIIB, and the decision of major economic powers, including Britain, France and Germany, to sign up is an expression of major shifts in the world economy and the position of the US within it.
A New York Times article headlined “At Global Economic Gathering, US Primacy is Seen as Ebbing,” published on the eve of the meetings, captured some of the mood. In an interview with the NYT, Arvind Subramanian, the chief economic advisor to the Indian government, said the US was almost handing over legitimacy to the rising powers. “People can’t be too public about these things, but I would argue this is the single most important issue of these spring meetings.”
The article went on to cite comments made by former treasury secretary and a top adviser in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, Lawrence Summers, that the inability of Washington to prevent key allies from joining the AIIB signalled “the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system.”
US treasury secretary Jack Lew disputed the notion that there was any decline in the American position, saying there was a lot of “noise in Washington” and this occasion was no exception “but the United States’ voice is heard quite clearly in gatherings like this.”
It may well be, but talk is cheap. The fact remains that the US is unable to offer any economic measures to boost the global economy in the way that it once could. This is under conditions where, as the main document prepared for the meeting, the IMF’s World Economic Outlook (WEO) drew out, lower growth, and even stagnation, is becoming the “new normal.” The WEO was accompanied by the IMF’s Global Financial Stability report, which showed that far from lessening, financial risks are on the increase.
Those risks are certain to be increased by another major issue that dominated unofficial discussion—the looming prospect that Greece may default on its loans, possibly as early as the middle of next month.
The official mantra within the euro zone is that the financial risks posed by a Greek exit are not as severe as they were in 2012. This is largely because the outcome of the austerity measures imposed under the so-called troika has been to take Greek debt off the hands of the private banks and transfer it to the European Central Bank and the IMF.
In the lead up to the meeting and during its sessions, the IMF and European financial authorities made clear there would be no accession to calls by the Greek government for some relief. In fact, the Financial Times has reported that in private and off-the-record discussions some European government representatives were in favour of pushing Greece out of the euro zone.
The hard line against Greece was laid down by IMF managing director Christine Lagarde. Adopting the tone of a school ma’am lecturing an errant student, she said: “We have been able to express and explain the policy of the IMF in terms of payments delays and give the precedents and history of that to Mr Vourafakis [the Greek finance minister].”
Speaking at a press conference during the Washington talks, ECB president Marion Draghi said the euro zone was much better equipped than it had been in the past to deal with a Greek crisis and sought to downplay the risks of financial contagion.
However, he added: “We are certainly entering into uncharted waters if the crisis were to precipitate, and it is very premature to make any speculation about it.”
Summing up the American position, Lew warned that a crisis in Greece would place a cloud of uncertainty over the European and global economies. “I do not think anyone can predict how markets will respond to dramatic changes in circumstances,” he said. “We have been clear in our conversation with all parties there is an urgent need to come together around a comprehensive approach.”
While the US views the prospect of a European crisis with alarm because of its impact on the American economy it is not able to significantly intervene. That is a measure of its economic decline. Gone are the days when a crisis would see the US convening an international economic summit to hammer out measures to overcome it.
In fact there was considerable discussion over whether US financial policy may contribute to financial instability, when the Federal Reserve begins to increase official interest rates. In 2013, indications that the Fed was moving to wind back its program of asset purchases—quantitative easing—brought a sharp movement of funds out of emerging markets in what was dubbed a “taper tantrum.”
In the lead up to last weekend’s meeting, the director of the IMF’s monetary and capital markets department, José Viñals, warned that there could be a “super taper tantrum” as the Fed moved closer to lifting official rates from their present near-zero level.
“This is going to take place in uncharted territory,” he said. “Markets could be increasingly susceptible to episodes in which liquidity suddenly vanishes and volatility spikes.”
However, despite the warnings of these dangers, nothing emerged from the IMF-World Bank meeting to suggest that financial authorities have any measures to meet them.
Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke hired by hedge fund Citadel
By Andre Damon
Ben S. Bernanke, the former Federal Reserve chairman who funneled trillions of dollars in government funds to Wall Street, has been hired by Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel LLC, where he will presumably make millions of dollars.
18 April 2015
Bernanke’s new job constitutes little more than a kickback for services rendered to Wall Street and the financial elite more generally. As a result of policies he implemented during his eight years as Fed chairman, the profits of Wall Street banks and hedge funds, including that of his new employer, have soared to record highs.
If the United States were a genuine democracy, the announcement of Bernanke’s new job would prompt vituperative public denunciations by senators and congressmen; hearings would be held, documents would be subpoenaed, and federal bribery charges would be drawn up against him.
Yet, since the story broke Thursday, the silence has been deafening. Not a single public official has prominently commented on the development, and major newspapers responded to the news with, at most, a shrug of the shoulders.
While Bernanke’s pay package has not been publicly disclosed, commentators noted that it is likely to be at least seven figures. In the fourteen months since he left office, Bernanke has raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees, charging $200,000 per appearance, more than he made in a year at his job at the Federal Reserve. The New York Times noted that his clients included “hedge fund managers like David A. Tepper of Appaloosa Management, private equity executives like Michael E. Novogratz of the Fortress Investment Group and other financial institutions.”
During the course of the 2008 bank bailout, which Bernanke played a leading role in orchestrating, the US government loaned nearly $7 trillion to the financial system, which was used to prop up over $30 trillion in financial assets—more than twice the yearly output of the United States.
It is also noteworthy that, during Bernanke’s tenure, not a single bank executive was criminally prosecuted for helping to cause the 2008 financial crisis, despite ample evidence of criminal wrongdoing demonstrated by a series of voluminous congressional reports.
Under Bernanke’s watch, the Fed initiated its so-called quantitative easing money-printing operation, which quadrupled the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, injecting some three trillion dollars into the financial system.
These policies have fueled a massive run-up in the values of financial assets, causing the wealth of the financial oligarchy to soar.
Since 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has nearly tripled in value. In the same period, members of the Forbes list of 400 richest people in the US have nearly doubled their net worth, which has hit a total of $2.9 trillion, or about one fifth of the United States’ gross domestic product. Over the same period, the incomes of a typical household in the US fell by more than ten percent.
Bernanke’s new employer has benefited handsomely from the
policies implemented under Bernanke and continued under his
successor, Janet Yellen. Citadel’s manager, Ken Griffin, made a
staggering $1.1 billion in 2014, making him the fourth-highest-
earning hedge fund manager in the US that year. The firm manages
$24 billion, and its clients had a rate of return of 18 percent last
According to the Times, “Bernanke said he was sensitive to the public’s anxieties about the ‘revolving door’ between Wall Street and Washington and chose to go to Citadel, in part, because it ‘is not regulated by the Federal Reserve and I won’t be doing lobbying of any sort.’” Bernanke declared that he decided to go to work for a hedge fund, not a bank, because “I wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest... I ruled out any firm that was regulated by the Federal Reserve.”
Amazingly, no one within the media establishment, least of all the Times, has even questioned Bernanke’s absurd and self-serving defense of his shameless bribe taking. The fact is that the Fed functioned to inflate the values of all financial assets: transferring social wealth from the poor to the rich. Hedge funds benefited from this process no less than banks.
Bernanke joins a long list of fed officials, financial
regulators and politicians who have cashed in on
their services to Wall Street:
• In November 2013, former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined the hedge fund Warburg Pincus, where he now serves as president and managing director.
• Last month, former Federal Reserve governor Jeremy C. Stein was hired as an advisor for the hedge fund BlueMountain Capital. He had resigned from the Fed the previous May.
• Peter Orszag, the former head of the Office of Management and Budget under Obama, joined Citigroup in 2011.
• Alan Greenspan, who was Bernanke’s predecessor at the Federal Reserve, signed on as an advisor to the hedge fund Paulson & Co in 2008.
• David H. McCormick, who served as Undersecretary for International Affairs at the Treasury
Department, is now co-president of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund.
• William M. Daley, who served as White House Chief of Staff between 2011 and 2012, became the managing partner of Swiss hedge fund Argentière Capital in 2014.
Former regulators are far from the only ones cashing in. This week, Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, signed on as a managing director at private equity firm Bain Capital. In 2013, David Petraeus, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, got a job at private equity company Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.
As the Washington Post put it, “There’s a
metronomic quality to it. Anytime a public official
leaves office, they write a book, maybe take a
fellowship somewhere, and then, after a suitable
amount of time has passed, take a job on Wall
The uniform regularity with which supposed federal regulators take jobs with the very industries they were in charge of policing underscores the fundamental reality that, far from seeking to restrain the illegal and criminal activities of the banks and hedge funds, the so-called regulators simply run interference for Wall Street, in exchange for millions of dollars in pay and perks after they leave office.
The insider trading fix and class justice in America
By Barry Grey
Every day in America, workers and young people are set upon by the police. On most days, at least one is killed.
8 April 2015
Over the seven days between March 27 and April 3, 28 people were killed by police officers across the US. Christopher Prevatt, 38, of Winchester, Virginia became the 28th fatality of the week, and the 298th of 2015, when he was shot and killed in his home at about 5 PM on April 3 by a Frederick County Sheriff’s deputy.
The same week, 11 educators in Atlanta, Georgia, including four former teachers, were convicted on state racketeering charges for inflating the results on standardized tests. An investigation by the governor’s office had concluded that the educators were threatened with the loss of their jobs or demotion if they failed to meet student achievement targets. Nevertheless, they were led away to prison in handcuffs to face sentences of 20 years or more. The judge denied their requests for bail, vindictively declaring that they had made their beds and now had to lie in them.
Also that week, a judge in Indiana sentenced a 33-year-old woman to a 20-year prison term for feticide. The woman, who had a miscarriage in 2013, was arrested after her doctor informed police that she might have used medication to terminate her pregnancy.
In America, “justice” for the working class and poor is remorseless, brutal and final. Millions are caught up in the vast gulag known as the prison system—the largest in the world. They are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately black and Latino. According to the American Bar Association, 360 people are serving life sentences for shoplifting in California alone.
Occasionally, workers who have been imprisoned for years or decades on the basis of false evidence are released. Last November, Rickey Jackson, then 57, was exonerated of murder charges after spending more than 39 years in prison, several of them on death row. Such rare exceptions to the rule of permanent entombment for victims of police frame-ups provide a glimpse into the cesspool of injustice and cruelty for millions that is the American justice system.
It is entirely different for the rich and well connected, especially the denizens of Wall Street. On April 3, the last day of Christopher Prevatt’s life, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit turned down a motion by the US Attorney for the district covering Wall Street to reconsider the court’s December ruling overturning the conviction on insider trading charges of two hedge fund executives.
Legal experts were surprised that the appeals court refused to accept the prosecutor’s motion, which included a request that the entire court review the ruling handed down in December by a three-judge panel. They were surprised because the December ruling sharply broke with judicial precedent to impose a novel and highly restrictive standard for prosecuting and convicting financial criminals who use insider information not available to the public to rig the markets for their personal gain.
The court brushed aside the prosecutor’s argument that its ruling “will dramatically limit the government’s ability to prosecute some of the most common culpable and market-threatening forms of insider trading.” The judges knew that, which is precisely why they ruled in the way they did.
The December ruling overturned the convictions of Anthony Chiasson, founder of Level Global Investors, and Todd Newman, a former trader at Diamondback Capital Management. Newman and Chiasson had received prison sentences of four-and-a-half and six-and-a-half years, respectively, after allegedly taking in $72 million by soliciting insider information about technology firms Nvidia and Dell.
In the wake of the December ruling, the Obama Justice Department has already dropped charges against several defendants it had accused of trading on insider information, including some who had pleaded guilty. The department said prosecutors could not prove allegations under the new legal framework.
It is believed that the ruling has set the stage for a reversal of the 2013 jury trial conviction of former SAC Capital Advisors portfolio manager Michael Steinberg. A longtime confidant of the multibillionaire manager of the SAC hedge fund, Steven A. Cohen, Steinberg was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison last May.
In 2013, the Justice Department arranged a settlement with SAC and Cohen under which the firm pleaded guilty and paid $1.2 billion in penalties for operating what prosecutors called insider trading “on a scale without known precedent.” No charges were brought against Cohen himself, who was allowed to keep the vast bulk of his $9 billion-plus fortune, obtained, according to the government, by criminal means.
These cases typify American class justice as applied to the financial aristocracy. The parasites who make their fortunes by speculating with other people’s money, playing fast and loose with securities and fraud laws, are shielded from any criminal accountability by the Obama administration, Congress and the courts. The media does its part by covering up or downplaying their crimes.
The new aristocrats, like the lords of old, are not bound by the laws that apply to the lower orders. Voluminous reports have been issued by Congress and government panels documenting systematic fraud and lawbreaking carried out by the biggest banks both before and after the Wall Street crash of 2008.
Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of
America and every other major US bank have
been implicated in a web of scandals, including
the sale of toxic mortgage securities on false
pretenses, the rigging of international interest rates
and global foreign exchange markets, the
laundering of Mexican drug money, accounting
fraud and lying to bank regulators, illegally
foreclosing on the homes of delinquent borrowers,
credit card fraud, illegal debt-collection practices,
rigging of energy markets, and complicity in the
Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.
One government-organized settlement has followed another, utilizing “deferred prosecution” deals and other gimmicks to allow Wall Street CEOs to get off scot-free. All the banks have had to do is pay largely fictitious fines, much of the nominal amount written off as tax credits.
Not a single top bank executive has been criminally prosecuted, let alone convicted or jailed, for illegal practices that led to the collapse of the financial system and a global depression. On the contrary, they have been rewarded by their bribed flunkies in government. They have seen their profits and personal fortunes soar on the basis of government bailouts and an endless stream of cash from the Federal Reserve.
Their plundering of the economy has continued unabated, while the working class has been made to pay the cost through layoffs, wage cuts and a ruthless assault on social programs and services.
The same week as the appeals court’s refusal to reconsider its December ruling on insider trading, Barron’s magazine emblazoned its March 30 edition with a photo of JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon (known as “Obama’s favorite banker”) and the headline “Back on Top.” The caption read: “After five years of regulatory tumult, JPMorgan has emerged as the No. 1 US bank in assets, credit cards, and investment banking. But CEO Jamie Dimon is not finished yet. Why shares could rise 30 percent in a year.”
Describing the bank’s annual investor day event, held in February, the article quoted a banking analyst as saying, “If there was a theme to investor day, it was Taylor Swift’s song, ‘Shake it off.’”
He will go off and collect tens of millions in backend bribes from his crony banksters in the form of “speaking fees”.