BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL. The news this week drove us to pull THE GREAT GATSBY off the bookshelf and read what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of his protagonists, the Buchanans: "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
GRETCHEN MORGENSON: There was a lack of accountability where a banker didn't care whether the loan was repaid. And the Wall Street firm that sold the securitization trust didn't care if it ever got paid back, because they were happy with their commission. The broker making the loan didn't care, because he got, all the way up the ladder to the CEOs of these companies, who are allowed to walk away from a financial cataclysm with huge payments.
BILL MOYERS: Should they be required to return the loot?
GRETCHEN MORGENSON: Yes. Why not? Claw that back. But does anybody ask for that? No.
FLOYD NORRIS: The government is nationalizing companies. They nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And that made a little bit of sense, since we'd always thought Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had an implicit government guarantee, whatever that meant. And now they've nationalized AIG. They own eighty percent of the company. They have lent money to the company at very strict terms.
For this company to somehow pay that loan back will require amazing competence in managing things. And I don't think anybody expects them to ever do that. They're probably going to liquidate AIG. It amazes me. I'm not sure it was unnecessary, as I said. But I can only envision what the right wing would be saying if a liberal Democrat had decided to nationalize the biggest insurance company in America. I don't think you'd be hearing a lot of praise for it.
KEVIN PHILLIPS: It's been a bipartisan phenomenon. You can go back to the 1980s and say Reagan and George Bush, Sr., got a bubble started. Clinton got in and got an even bigger bubble going. And then George W. Bush with the biggest bubble of all. But it's not that the Clintonites didn't play. They did. Bob Rubin as Secretary of the Treasury — I mean, if he was a Hindu and he was being reincarnated, he'd come back as a pail because this guy bailed out everything you can imagine. They had the Mexican loan bailout. They had the long-term capital management bailout, the Russian Southeast Asian currency bailouts.
KP: So I think what we're looking at here is an attempt really like a drunk will feel better and get over his hangover better sometimes just by having more liquor. And I think what we're seeing with the actions of the Federal Reserve Board is the people who are the arsonists, the people who pumped it all up, who blew up the bubble are now racing to show up in firemen's hats and say, "We're gonna solve it. We're gonna take care of all this. Oh, and by the way, we're gonna keep pumping in the gasoline that we pumped in before that made a good flame." But, you know, nobody knows that.
KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, just to give you an example of how many there are, Alan Greenspan has finally decided to admit, you know, this may be one of those once-a-century biggies. Well, what makes it fascinating is that I sometimes use the description "seven sharks." There are seven sharks in the tank with the economy.
And the first is financialization because we're so dependent on this industry that's sort of half lost its marbles. The second is that you have this huge buildup of debt, absolutely unprecedented anywhere in the world. The third is you've now got home prices collapsing. The fourth is you've got global commodity inflation building up.
The fifth is you've got flawed and deceptive government economics statistics. The sixth is that you've got what they call peak oil where the world is, to some extent, running out of oil. So it's not just commodity inflation, it's a shortage of oil. And then the last thing is the collapsing dollar. Now, whenever you get this sort of package in one decade, you got a big one. And when Greenspan says it's a once a century, I think it's another variation but on a par with the Thirties.
BILL MOYERS: What do you think when you hear John McCain and Secretary Paulson say that the fundamentals, however, are solid?
KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, John McCain once said he didn't know anything about economics. And half the time what he says, you know, proves that on a day-by-day basis. I don't think we have a sound economy at all. Not remotely at this point. I mean, there are, like, ten yardsticks I could use. Paulson is your typical Treasury Secretary guy that has to deal with it. And everybody knows he has to exaggerate. He has to say all the Hoover type stuff about how strong the economy is and the recession's going to be over in three months and that sort of stuff. I don't really credit these people very much. But, frankly, I don't credit the Democrats either.