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“Wall Street Vampires”: Lurking In Their Coffins, The Enemies Of Reform Can’t Withstand Sunlight

Last year the vampires of finance bought themselves a Congress. I know it’s not nice to call them that, but I have my reasons, which I’ll explain in a bit. For now, however, let’s just note that these days Wall Street, which used to split its support between the parties, overwhelmingly favors the G.O.P. And the Republicans who came to power this year are returning the favor by trying to kill Dodd-Frank, the financial reform enacted in 2010.

And why must Dodd-Frank die? Because it’s working.

This statement may surprise progressives who believe that nothing significant has been done to rein in runaway bankers. And it’s true both that reform fell well short of what we really should have done and that it hasn’t yielded obvious, measurable triumphs like the gains in insurance thanks to Obamacare.

But Wall Street hates reform for a reason, and a closer look shows why.

For one thing, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the brainchild of Senator Elizabeth Warren — is, by all accounts, having a major chilling effect on abusive lending practices. And early indications are that enhanced regulation of financial derivatives — which played a major role in the 2008 crisis — is having similar effects, increasing transparency and reducing the profits of middlemen.

What about the problem of financial industry structure, sometimes oversimplified with the phrase “too big to fail”? There, too, Dodd-Frank seems to be yielding real results, in fact, more than many supporters expected.

As I’ve just suggested, too big to fail doesn’t quite get at the problem here. What was really lethal was the interaction between size and complexity. Financial institutions had become chimeras: part bank, part hedge fund, part insurance company, and so on. This complexity let them evade regulation, yet be rescued from the consequences when their bets went bad. And bankers’ ability to have it both ways helped set America up for disaster.

Dodd-Frank addressed this problem by letting regulators subject “systemically important” financial institutions to extra regulation, and seize control of such institutions at times of crisis, as opposed to simply bailing them out. And it required that financial institutions in general put up more capital, reducing both their incentive to take excessive risks and the chance that risk-taking would lead to bankruptcy.

All of this seems to be working: “Shadow banking,” which created bank-type risks while evading bank-type regulation, is in retreat. You can see this in cases like that of General Electric, a manufacturing firm that turned itself into a financial wheeler-dealer, but is now trying to return to its roots. You can also see it in the overall numbers, where conventional banking — which is to say, banking subject to relatively strong regulation — has made a comeback. Evading the rules, it seems, isn’t as appealing as it used to be.

But the vampires are fighting back.

O.K., why do I call them that? Not because they drain the economy of its lifeblood, although they do: there’s a lot of evidence that oversize, overpaid financial industries — like ours — hurt economic growth and stability. Even the International Monetary Fund agrees.

But what really makes the word apt in this context is that the enemies of reform can’t withstand sunlight. Open defenses of Wall Street’s right to go back to its old ways are hard to find. When right-wing think tanks do try to claim that regulation is a bad thing that will hurt the economy, their hearts don’t seem to be in it. For example, the latest such “study,” from the American Action Forum, runs to all of four pages, and even its author, the economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, sounds embarrassed about his work.

What you mostly get, instead, is slavery-is-freedom claims that reform actually empowers the bad guys: for example, that regulating too-big-and-complex-to-fail institutions is somehow doing wheeler-dealers a favor, claims belied by the desperate efforts of such institutions to avoid the “systemically important” designation. The point is that almost nobody wants to be seen as a bought and paid-for servant of the financial industry, least of all those who really are exactly that.

And this in turn means that so far, at least, the vampires are getting a lot less than they expected for their money. Republicans would love to undo Dodd-Frank, but they are, rightly, afraid of the glare of publicity that defenders of reform like Senator Warren — who inspires a remarkable amount of fear in the unrighteous — would shine on their efforts.

Does this mean that all is well on the financial front? Of course not. Dodd-Frank is much better than nothing, but far from being all we need. And the vampires are still lurking in their coffins, waiting to strike again. But things could be worse.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 11, 2015

May 13, 2015 Posted by | Dodd-Frank, Financial Reform, Wall Street | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Walker Pushing Drug War Testing Scheme”: And He Doesn’t Care That The Courts Say That’s Unconstitutional

According to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, what American employers are really looking for these days is “someone who can pass a drug test.”

Walker made that remark in a question-and-answer session in Washington, D.C., Friday following his remarks at the American Action Forum’s inaugural Fred Malek lecture series, which are named after the GOP powerbroker who served as Richard Nixon’s “Jew counter”). The Wisconsin governor is expected to formally unveil the drug testing proposal in his budget next week.

The imitative would require drug testing for recipients of government benefits like food stamps and Medicaid. Walker says his plan is justified because there are many open jobs waiting for people who can pass drug tests and know “how to show up [for work] everyday five days a week.”

Walker first touted the idea while running for re-election last year, and pledged to “require a drug test for those requesting unemployment and able-bodied, working age adults requesting Food Stamps from the state.” But, sadly for Walker, the plan is almost certainly unconstitutional.

Federal courts have found that laws that require all recipients of welfare benefits to be drug tested violate the 4th Amendment as an unconstitutional search and seizure. However, states have recently passed laws that only require drug tests for those on government assistance for whom there is “a reasonable suspicion” of illegal drug use. This is considered far more likely to pass constitutional muster than blanket drug testing of everyone who applies for public assistance.

Walker did seem aware of these obstacles at the event, describing the pushback from the courts as “a classic example where the federal government pushes back and says you can’t do that.”

But even if Walker does manage to require drug testing for welfare recipients, the plan would likely be quite expensive for taxpayers. Before it was overturned in federal court, Florida’s mandatory drug test law ended up costing the state more money than it saved.

In the meantime, it does make for good political rhetoric. Very few candidates have won election on a platform giving more money to drug addicts. But Walker’s plan is unlikely to turn into effective or lasting legislation.

 

By: Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, January 30, 2015

January 31, 2015 Posted by | Drug Testing, Scott Walker, Welfare Recipients | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sorry Gov Walker, Wisconsin Pension System Is Nation’s Most Solvent

Wisconsin’s budget may be in a hole, but the state’s pension system is among the healthiest in the nation.

In fact, the Badger State was one of just two states to fully fund its public employee pension in 2009, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States. New York was the other.

Although nationally there was at least a $1.26 trillion gap in 2009 between what states have promised in public employee retirement benefits and what they have set aside, Wisconsin stands out as a leader in managing its liabilities for both pension and health benefits over the long term, the Pew report concluded. The shortfall is 26 percent greater than it was in 2008.

Pew researchers attribute the gap to unwise decisions by retirement benefits fund officials and the Great Recession that whacked pension fund investments. In all, 31 states were below the recommended 80 percent funding level for their pension plans in 2009, compared with 22 states that fell short of that threshold the previous year.

“Over the last decade, it was all too common for state leaders to skip or shortchange their annual retirement contributions and increase retiree benefits without checking the price tag or figuring out how to pay the larger, long-term bill,” said Susan Urahn, managing director for the Pew Center on the States. “Now, policymakers in many states are taking a long overdue look at how they have managed, or failed to manage, the considerable costs for public employees’ retirement benefits. Even in states like New York and Wisconsin, where pension systems are well-funded, governors have sought policy changes aimed at reducing their pension liabilities.”

The report was released at a time when Wisconsin sits at the epicenter of state budget battles across the country as governors are focusing on public employee benefits to cut costs and balance budgets. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ignited a firestorm with his “budget repair” proposal that strips public employees of many of their collective bargaining rights and requires them to contribute more of their income toward their retirement benefits. Several states followed with similar proposals, fueling a debate over the role of pension systems in the financial crisis in the states.

At a Capitol Hill forum Tuesday sponsored by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, the consensus among panelists was pensions are not to blame for states’ fiscal woes. One panelist, Eli Lehrer, vice president of the Heartland Institute, said given the health of Wisconsin’s pension fund, Walker would be wise to focus his budget balancing effort elsewhere.

“The pension system in Wisconsin is fully funded,” Lehrer said. “As a budget focus, I think he’s better off expending his political capital somewhere else.”

Andrew Biggs, a pension expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said just because Wisconsin’s pension fund is solvent doesn’t mean it should be off-limits.

“It could be well-funded and still be a drain on the budget,” Biggs said.

Pew researcher Stephen Fehr said retirement benefit costs for all states continue to rise, and while states like New York and Wisconsin should be commended for maintaining their funding obligations amid hard times, they face financial strains.

“They don’t have a pension crisis, but on the other hand they do have some pressures as all states do when it comes to figuring out how do we pay our bills,” Fehr said.

New York and Wisconsin have fulfilled their pension fund obligations regardless of the economic times, Fehr said.

By: Larry Bivins, Greenbaypressgazette.com, April 27, 2011

April 28, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Politics, Public Employees, States, Wisconsin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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