The piece includes a devastating anecdote showing how Rubin, as treasury secretary, killed a measure to shore up derivatives regulation that could have averted the worst of the current crisis. The anecdote, in which Rubin dresses down the head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, is based on a first-hand account by Michael Greenberger, then the commission’s director of trading and markets, who was there:
At an April 21, 1998, meeting with Brooksley Born, the chairwoman of the commodities commission, Mr. Rubin made no secret of his feelings about her proposal. “It was controlled anger. He was very tough,” Mr. Greenberger recalls. “I was at several meetings with him, and I’ve never seen him like that before or after.” Ms. Born didn’t return calls for comment.
We wish there were more on Rubin’s role in the repeal of Glass-Steagall. The law that replaced it was formulated under Rubin, signed under his successor and essentially ratified the 1998 merger that created Citigroup, the source of many of our woes.
Good look at statistics vs. reality
A Credit to Harper’s for Kevin P. Phillips’s piece “Why the Economy Is Worse Than You Know,” (subscription required) about how government statistics have given us a falsely positive view of the economy over the past few decades.
Definitions of key stats, like the consumer-price index and gross domestic product, have gradually departed from reality, writes Phillips.
the use of deceptive statistics has played its own vital role in convincing many Americans that the U.S. economy is stronger, fairer, more productive, more dominant, and richer with opportunity that it actually is.
Phillips doesn’t see any conspiracies behind this statistical debasement, but sees a series of “accumulating opportunisms” and blames both Republicans and Democrats.
This lack of paranoia or partisanship gives Phillips credibility when he looks at who benefits from the rosy numbers:
We might ponder as well who profits from a low-growth U.S. economy hidden under statistical camouflage. Might it be Washington politicians and affluent elites, anxious to mislead voters, coddle the financial markets, and tamp down expensive cost-of-living increases for wages and pensions?
We’re pretty sure the question is rhetorical.
Fortune-ately, we have Sloan
A Credit to Fortune for Allan Sloan’s column “A Gift from the Beltway,” which announces:
High-income folks like me don’t qualify for rebate checks. But we’re getting so much more.
Thanks to a relatively little noticed portion of the stimulus package, we’ll be able to refinance our house more cheaply than we otherwise could, or presumably sell it for more.
We like this piece because Sloan both illuminates important but obscure changes in mortgage rules, and candidly reveals his own position to us: we find out that he and his wife make enough money (more than $174,000) to benefit from these changes.
Not that self-interest leads Sloan to support the new rules:
The one thing I liked about the stimulus package was that the government had enough sense to not send money [an economic-stimulus tax rebate] to people like me. But then it turns around and hands me a housing subsidy. I’ll gratefully accept the gift. But that’s no way to run a country.
Ahead of its Time
Finally, a Credit to Time.com for breaking the big story that the Wall Street Journal’s top editor, Marcus Brauchli, is “resigning.”
It’s a great scoop for a newsweekly, showing Time can scrap with the dailies via its Web site.