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Wall Street Whiners Threaten to Wreck the Economy-- Again

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I agree with everything Paul Krugman has to say about Max Abelson's excellent run-down of the Wall Street whinery, but his critique stops a little too short. Abelson's piece emphasizes that Wall Street isn't really upset about any policies the Obama administration has adopted, since, as I and many others have noted, the Obama administration has been very friendly on that front. What they're upset about-- at least what they say they're upset about-- is the jargon. Obama called bailed-out bankers "fat cats" after they paid themselves obscene bonuses with taxpayer money. To the bankers Abelson quotes, this amounts to some kind of unfair discrimination. That's absurd-- the bailout barons Obama criticized had wrecked the economy and then paid themselves like princes for profits secured by taxpayer largesse. Those who did not benefit from such largesse have no reason to feel slighted by the critique, and those who did benefit have no reason to be complaining from their second homes in the Hamptons.

But what I find most interesting is that the cry-babies in Ableson's story actually threaten to wreck the economy over this rhetoric. The key passage is at the end of Ableson's piece:

Wall Street's emotions have consequences. "If, as a result of this anger, credit becomes unavailable, particularly for small and mid-size businesses," Mr. Schwarzman wrote in The Washington Post this year, before his Poland blunder, "then at best the economy will slow and, at worst, we will find ourselves in a dire situation." He said bankers felt under siege and were responding by "becoming conservative," a lovely little pun about lending and politics.

Credit does not just magically become "unavailable" because of "anger." Some class of angry people has to decide not to make credit available.

There are plenty of reasons why bankers might decide not to extend loans, but feeling "under siege" because the president called you a fat cat of isn't one of them. No sane businessperson would let those feelings overwhelm her decision-making process when the bottom line is at stake. If there were evidence that new regulations were going to change dramatically and banks would have to keep more capital on hand to cushion against losses, there's a case to be made that banks might not be eager to extend loans as a result (not a very good case, though, since banks could just raise capital in the markets to support profitable lending opportunities). But freaking out because of the President calls you a fat cat and preemptively shutting down your business makes, well, no sense.

Another of Abelson's anonymous Wall Street sources repeats the insanity:

"He's pissing on us and Wall Street and bankers and capitalism; then we have gotten afraid," the executive who turned CNBC on mute said. "We then are not investing in maybe what we should invest in."

What, exactly, are this guy and his friends afraid of? That Obama might call him another name that he likes even less than "fat cat?" Obama has proposed a couple of tax changes for some types of Wall Street revenue and some types of hedge fund pay-- but the fear of higher taxes wouldn't be grounds to invest less, or invest improperly. Bumping up the capital gains rate from 15 percent to 20 percent doesn't alter the incentive structure at all-- it isn't going to push any bankers or traders out of the investment business.

So these brats are saying one of two things with their tantrums. Either Wall Street is dominated by completely irrational fools who will wreck their businesses after hearing a dirty words, or this is a threat: Treat us like superhuman royalty, or we'll wreck the economy. If the first case is true, then these guys are paying themselves enormous sums of money to be total idiots-- something the "well operators" that one of Abelson's anonymous Wall Street sources spits on never do. If the second is true, then we have another excellent reason to keep these sharks out of economic policy debates.

UPDATE: Also note the use of anonymous sources in Abelson's story. Usually that anonymity protects somebody from something-- in financial journalism, anonymity usually protects a source who divulges a trading strategy or a lobbying tactic that ought to be a company secret. But these guys are just whining, and asking for Abelson not to tell anybody who they are. At least some members of the Wall Street whinery are ashamed of themselves.

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