Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Recognizes Vietnam Vets

Obama won me over, although I was already a supporter, when he mentioned Khe Sahn in the same breath with Concord, Gettysburg and Normandy in his inaugural address. Typically, Americans look down on Vietnam veterans, probably because most Americans, like George Bush and Bill Clinton, did not go. There are probably very few Vietnam vets on Wall Street. So, to mention a Vietnam battle in a positive context along with other famous battles is another ground breaking step by Obama. Thank you.

My impression is that he is much more concerned about our military and veterans than Bush was, although Bush was always very public about praising them. If he had really cared about them he would have done more to increase the size of the Army and Marines, would have shortened their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would have increased their time at home between tours. Plus he would have done more to make sure they had the best equipment. Instead of raising taxes to provide better equipment, he and Rumsfeld just went to war with what they had. They didn't try to improve the forces. I think Obama takes his job as commander-in-chief seriously and will do more for the troops, as well as for veterans. Appointing Shinseki as VA Secretary is a good first step. Shinseki may not know much about medicine, but he cares about his troops. Thank you.

Take Over the Banks

I like the proposal for a central bank given in the NYT's Anonymous Banker's proposal. First of all, the analogy to a used car dealer is one I thought of myself. We would all think bankers were stupid if they bought cars that didn't run; instead they bought obscure securities that didn't have the value the bankers paid for them, which somehow seems less stupid, although it's probably more stupid because bankers are supposed to be experts on securities, but not on cars. The idea of buying "toxic assets" is good for taxpayers only if the government pays what they are worth, which won't help the banks. Bankers are screaming to get rid of the "mark to market" rule, i.e., the rule that makes them carry on their books only the actual value of their assets. They are saying that the current market value is too low. It's like students complaining about grades. If you're failing, you don't want grades; if you're doing well, you don't mind grades; you might even want them, so that other people, e.g., your parents, will know how well you are doing. The bankers are like failing students.

I hadn't really thought about shareholder value, but the idea of preserving shareholder rights, but keeping them on ice until the bank comes out of the "central bank" seems like a good one. I can see lots of bookkeeping problems, however, if the stock is on hold for 10 years. People will die, get divorced, etc., and figuring out who gets what when the bank re-emerges will be tough.

Since I proposed it earlier, I especially like the idea of limiting the size of the banks when they re-emerge and renewing Glass-Steagall, or something like it to prevent the banks from become too big to fail again. The government could create three, four or five roughly equivalent regions and then limit any bank to just one region.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Break Up the Banks

In this huge Op-Ed in last Sunday's NYT about the financial crisis, I thought there was only one really good idea: Break up the banks that are too big to fail, so that next time they can fail without destroying the US financial system. We should probably allow interstate banking, but put some kind of cap on the size of banks.