Posts Tagged ‘Neil Barofsky’

Oligarchy and the revolving door

October 7, 2016

There are two kinds of revolving doors between business and government.   The first is when people come from the world of business, usually temporarily, to make policy in government.

I don’t think this is necessarily wrong.  If you are making policy on a complicated field, such as finance, you want people who know something about the subject, and often as not that will that will be people who earn a living in that field.

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was a stock market speculator in the 1920s, trading on inside information and manipulating the market.   But when he became the first chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (1932-1935), he outlawed this practices.   His experience made him a better regulator.

The second is when government regulators and policy-makers plan to move on to jobs in the industries they regulate and make policy for.

Neil Barofsky, who was special inspector general in charge of the oversight of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) from 2008 through 2011, wrote about how he was warned that he would make himself unemployable by being too zealous about doing his job, but that he might have a good post-government career if he toned town his reports.

He said he always realizing that doing his job was incompatible with a future job in finance or a higher federal appointment.  He is now a law school professor.  He is an exception.

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Neil Barofsky on why Wall Street wins

October 27, 2012

An inside story of the Wall Street bailout

August 16, 2012

Neil Barofsky was special inspector general for the Trouble Asset Relief Program from December 2008 to March 2011.  His new book, BAILOUT: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street, told me a lot about not only of the failures of the Obama administration, but of the dysfunctional culture of Washington, D.C.

In Barofsky’s early days in Washington, he was kindly advised not to be too abrasive or controversial.  Herb Allison, the former Merrill Lynch executive who was the so-called “TARP czar,” told him that if he played the game, he was assured of moving on to a good job either in Washington or Wall Street; otherwise, he would be unemployable.   That is also what Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) told him—that if he did his job right, he would make a real difference and serve the American people in a meaningful way, and he also would never be able to get a job again.

His account makes U.S. government seem like the court of King Louis XVI in 18th century France.  Everybody was obsessed with protocol, rank, status, privileges and keeping in the good graces of the powers that be.  Having a big office was very important.  High officials were flattered as if they were demi-gods.  Barofsky wrote that he made up his mind early on that he was going to do his job well and then get out.

He was a federal prosecutor in New York who prosecuted Colombian drug lords and white collar criminals.  A Democrat, he was appointed in the waning days of the Bush administration after Congress insisted on the IG position as a condition for approving TARP.  Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson gave him the cold shoulder, but Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was downright hostile.  He learned early that the secret of influencing the executive branch is to have friends in Congress, and the secret of influencing Congress is to cultivate the press, which he did.

His report is another confirmation of the failure of the Obama administration to bring Wall Street under control.  According to Barofsky:

  • Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner basically trusted the banks to manage their own bailout.  They were lent $4.7 trillion, not just the $700 billion authorized by Congress, with no significant audit or supervision, under conditions in which they could hardly fail to profit.  In one case, a couple of bankers literally designed a program which they then proceeded to administer, to their great profit.
  • The purpose of the bailout was to get credit flowing into the economy again for consumer loans, home mortgages and financing for small business, but this didn’t happen, and nothing was put in place to assure that it would happen. Barofsky conceded that a bailout probably was necessary in late 2008 to prevent a financial collapse, and that the banks repaid most (not all) of the money advanced.  But he said there was no need to bail out the banks at 100 cents on the dollar, and no justification for refusing to audit how the money was spent.
  • The Home Affordable Modification Plan (HAMP) was never intended to provide help homeowners avoid mortgage foreclosures, but rather, in Geithner’s words, to “foam the runway” for the banks—that is, to stretch out the foreclosure process so that banks and mortgage servicers would not be overwhelmed by having more foreclosures than they could handle.  Barofsky said Geithner resisted audits and measures to protect homeowners from fraudulent mortgage servicing programs.
  • There is nothing in place to prevent another financial crash, as bad or worse than the one that went before.  The only thing different is that government has authority which will make possible future bailouts without going to Congress.

While Barofsky’s book did confirm my low opinion of Secretary Geithner, it did raise my opinion of Congress.  Barofsky was able to accomplish what little he did—a few audits, a few successful prosecutions for fraud—through the support of courageous Democrats and Republicans in Congress.  I have a higher opinion of Senator Shelby than I did before, although qualified by the fact that he is a highly partisan Republican who anti-labor, anti-civil rights, and opposed to creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Board.

Barofsky currently is a senior fellow at New York University School of Law.

The following brief segments from PBS’s Newshour provide an impression of Barofsky’s personality, background and thinking.

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