Krauts Sour on Wall Street Bailout

Very interesting German perspectives — more interesting than most U.S. press coverage

Apparently following the lead of the New York Times, practically all of the U.S. press is ignoring some harsh — and insightful — criticism by European conservative pols of the Wall Street meltdown and bailout.

So much of the press (TV and print) is so used to waiting until the Times deems something newsworthy before letting the rest of us in on the news, Harkavy said, stating the obvious as he has so many times — making him so crazy that he's starting to refer to himself in the third person.

In any case, a load of stark, fact-based criticism of the U.S. by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others has somehow escaped mention by the Times and other U.S. outlets.

You would of course expect other governments to be pissed off at the U.S. right now, but this criticism has some real meat to it, and German commentators show more empathy with the average American than our own press does.

Go to Der Spiegel, where you'll read that Merkel "says the Bush administration has mishandled Wall Street, and that its refusal to adopt stricter rules led to the current crisis."

Merkel's no Hugo Chavez, nor even a Lula. She's a conservative, for Rockefeller's sake. And all she is asking is give voluntary regulation a chance.

But even that self-regulation was too much for the Bush-Cheney regime and the rest of the GOP to stomach. Here's a passage from the Spiegel story that helps explain:

At a political rally in Linz, Merkel indirectly attacked US President George W. Bush. She suggested that American obstinacy had dragged other industrial nations into the credit crisis.

Many European countries, she said, had already imposed stringent conditions on their banking sectors. "We dutifully adopted a nice EU directive into national law, and we had to deal with numerous complaints from small- and medium-sized companies in doing so. When the day came, the Americans said, 'We won't'," Merkel said. "That cannot be allowed in the international sphere." Merkel complained that taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill in countries far beyond the US and Britain.

She was referring to the "Basel II" agreement, a set of international standards which tightened capital requirements for credit institutions. Much of the EU has signed up to Basel II, and Germany codified it in 2007. But Washington still hasn't set a date for working its principles into American law.

See, if you don't click on non-U.S. sites, you miss out on some good angles, like the Basel II one, which has gotten almost zilch play over here.

And in " 'Bad News for the Ferrari Salesmen of the World,' " Der Spiegel's Rachel Nolan rounds up some shrewd assessments of the moves by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to give up being investment banks and run for cover to the Federal Reserve Bank. Nolan notes:

In their new incarnations, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs will offer consumer-banking services and gain permanent access to the discount window of the Federal Reserve. At the same time, they will be subject to the much more stringent regulations of the Fed rather than just those of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In effect, they will need to have more capital on hand relative to the amount they wish to borrow. That means less risk to play with.

While some commentators in German newspapers see the banks' decision as signaling the end of an era, others view it as meaning only that the same game will continue -- but with stricter referees.

She quotes the business daily Handelsblatt as saying:

The adrenaline branch of investment banking will lose a lot of its glamour. In the 1988 film Wall Street, Michael Douglas played an unscrupulous, risk-happy financial shark named Gordon Gekko, who wore bright pants and slicked back his hair. His motto, "greed is good," has prevailed for the past 20 years. The new motto is "caution is better." Gordon Gekko's era finally came to a close yesterday. That's bad news for the Ferrari salesmen of the world, but good news for the stability of the financial system.

Predictably, the lefty segment of the German press points to this as an earthshaking collapse leading to another way of doing business. Papers further to the right know better than to think that Goldman and Morgan will have to change everything about the way they operate. The two didn't forsake their status as investment banks for altruistic reasons, after all. For instance, from Financial Times Deutschland:

When it comes to everyday operations, the institutions will change very little. The only real change is that, from now on, it will be the Federal Reserve, rather than the Security and Exchange Commission, which exercises oversight...

Now the banks won't be able to take on such high risks nor bring in such high returns. Market conditions were already forcing them in that direction anyway. In essence, however, the core business model will remain the same: They will continue to provide advice about mergers and public offerings, trade stocks on their own and others' accounts, and invest their own money in takeovers.

Another Der Spiegel story, by Corinna Kreiler, focuses on German economists. But don't let your eyes glaze over, because this is the lede of the lively piece:

It's not a call for assistance; it's a scream for help. US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is asking other countries to help buy up bad US debt. The US government is putting up $700 billion in taxpayer money in the hopes that the measure might restore stability in the financial system. Some countries are planning to help. But the German government has answered this call quickly and clearly: no.

And here's a passage that resonates with a question that is being drowned out by the wailing of Wall Streeters:

Experts have also criticized the American rescue package for a number of other reasons. Diemo Dietrich from the Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) doesn't think the plan is well-balanced: "The government is only buying bad risks and, in doing so, nationalizing the losses." Dietrich adds that taxpayers won't share in any of the profits that the government hopes the stabilized market will bring about in the long run.

That's the same thing that happened when the government set up the Resolution Trust Corp. to bail out the savings and loan industry in the '80s and '90s. We taxpayers paid for that cleanup and didn't get so much as a reacharound in return.

Now let's see . . . that savings and loan crisis was caused in large part by deregulation and out-of-control real-estate lending practices. (One of its main financiopaths was Charlie Keating, who was John McCain's good buddy, vacation host, and campaign financier.)

And after taxpayers bailed out the S&L industry, the pols and bankers promised that they had learned a valuable lesson and would never, never be so reckless again.

Until the next time and the next bailout.

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