Thursday, August 22, 2013

Read David Stockman

A new book by David Stockman, "The Great Deformation," challenges the current orthodoxy of financial market regulation.

This book is a great read.  Don't expect a calm and collected analysis.  This book is definitely not calm and collected.  Stockman takes on all comers and his style is blatantly polemical.  He aims his brickbats at the right and the left as he excoriates the rise of indebtedness, public and private, since the 1960s.

Don't think conservatives get a free ride in this book.  They don't.  Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman are targets of Stockman.  Indeed, Stockman sees Reagan and Friedman as major culprits in the incredible growth of America's financial liabilities.  Some of this is, no doubt, sour grapes for his well-publicized split with the Reagan Administration in the 1980s when Stockman was Director of the Bureau of the Budget.  He resigned that post in a feud with the Reagan folks over their unwillingness to support spending reductions to accompany the famous Reagan tax cuts.

But, the heart and soul of Stockman's book is his interpretation of the 2008 financial crisis.  Here, Stockman makes a real contribution to what has been an embarassingly simple-minded consensus view of government policy.   Stockman argues that the federal government, including the Fed, should not have intervened to save AIG, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.  According to Stockman, saving these firms was the main purpose of the hastily-assembled $ 780 billion bailout backage, known as TARP.

Stockman argues that the financial system and the American economy was not threatened by the collapse of AIG, MS, and GS, as was argued at the time.  He shows, by analyzing the balance sheets of these firms, that the American economy could have easily survived the collapse of these firms.  Few, today, agree with that, but Stockman makes his case convincingly.

In essence, Stockman is challenging the "too big to fail" crowd that dominates government policy today and that dominated government policy in the Bush Administration in 2008.  By challenging a hackneyed consensus devoid of analytical underpinning, Stockman has done a great service, writing this book.  He's right.  Read his book.

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