The Huffington Post published an article yesterday titled “David Axelrod Describes the No Good, Very Bad Minefield of Obama’s Early Presidency“. It is infuriating to know that those who were charged with bringing a resolution to the financial crisis only thought about what was in the best interest of Wall Street and not what was in the best interest of the nation as a whole. In response to the article, Bill Black writes:
Timothy Geithner’s penchant for speaking about things he does not care enough about to get right has led to him uttering many of the most cringe-worthy phrases about the economic crisis. The latest example is in David Axelrod’s new book about the Obama administration’s response to the financial crisis. This column was prompted by Sam Stein’s piece in the Huffington Post about Axelrod’s key points.
“Axelrod was ‘livid’ when he found out that Geithner and [Larry] Summers ‘had quietly lobbied’ against an amendment to the stimulus that would have restricted the payment of bonuses at firms that received bailout funds. Those bonuses had become a huge political sore point for the administration, but the finance guys argued that retroactive steps to claw back the money would have violated existing contracts.
‘This would be the end of capitalism as we know it’ Geithner told Axelrod, to which Axelrod says he responded: ‘I hate to break the news, Mr. Secretary, but capitalism isn’t trading very high right now.’”
This story confirms two pathologies that are well-known about the Obama administration. First, Geithner was a faithful servant of his Wall Street masters when he was Treasury Secretary, just as he was when he was the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Notice that there is a contradiction in the description of the issue. Preventing banks that received bailouts from paying future bonuses is not “clawing back” bonuses. Clawing back bonuses means recovering bonuses that were improperly paid based on false accounting statements that massively overstated bank income. Neither of the practices I have described would have “violated existing contracts.” The people that “violated existing contracts” were the bankers who massively inflated reported net income in order to collect massive bonuses while the bank suffered huge losses and the bankers that made massive bonuses by leading frauds that ripped off customers. Both forms of fraud invalidate any contractual claim by the managers to bonuses. Bankers should not get paid in full under normal bankruptcy provisions when they run the bank into insolvency (including a liquidity crisis).