Robert Rubin’s absurd economic recommendations

Marshall Auerback here with a commentary on Robert Rubin’s recent Newsweek article on getting the economy back on track.

As we all know, during his tenure as Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin laid the groundwork for today’s crisis through his aggressive championing of financial deregulation.  Had he at least acknowledged some remorse or recognition of error, he would be more appropriately suited for an advisory role on how to fix the global economy, much as a reformed criminal often has useful insights on penal.  No such luck here. This neo-liberal zealot reiterates the usual self-serving nonsense how ‘NOBODY’ could have possibly foreseen the magnitude of the problem.   Being one of the worst Treasury Secretary’s of the 20th century was clearly not enough.

Post the Clinton Administration, Rubin was a senior advisor of Citigroup after he quit the Treasury. He left just before its near collapse amidst criticism of his performance. In 2001, he got hold of Peter Fisher in the US Treasury Department to try to put pressure on the bond-rating agencies to avoid downgrading Enron’s debt which was a debtor of Citigroup.

In January 2009, he was named by MarketWatch as one of the “10 most unethical people in business”.

Letting him publicly expound on getting the global economy back on track is akin to providing Kim Il Jong-il a public platform on human rights.  Unlike Greenspan, who at least has had the decency to admit mistakes, Rubin still expects to be taken seriously as a policy maker.  This is truly disgusting considering the millions of Americans who are without work now and heading south into poverty, not to mention the millions of workers around the world that have lost their jobs and savings and more largely thanks to the policies championed by this misguided deficit warrior.

And the article clearly establishes that the man is a deficit terrorist who understands nothing about reserve accounting and bonds.  This is a classic illustration of the idiocy:

The United States faces projected 10-year federal budget deficits that seriously threaten its bond market, exchange rate, economy, and the economic future of every American worker and family. Those risks are exacerbated by the context of those deficits: a low household-savings rate, even after recent increases; large funding requirements for federal debt maturities every year; heavy overweighting of dollar-denominated assets in foreign portfolios; worsened fiscal prospects in the decades after the current 10-year budget period; and competing claims for capital to fund deficits in other countries.

Bonds don’t "fund" anything and certainly don’t create competition for "funding requirements" on the basis of a silly "crowding out" theory.

Here Rubin assumes that government deficits increase the claim on saving and reduce the “loanable funds” available for investors. Does the competition for saving push up the interest rates?

No, for two reasons:  First, budget deficits build productive infrastructure which exerts a positive influence on economic growth.

Second, budget deficits typically help stimulate investment because they keep aggregate demand from plummeting.

Bond sales do play an important role in managing aggregate bank reserves and in the administration of overnight interbank interest rates, but Rubin clearly does not understand this, despite years on Wall Street.  When government spends, recipients of Treasury checks deposit them into banks, which adds reserves to the banking system.  In effect, government spending actually lowers interest rates.

By contrast, budget surpluses are not even remotely like private saving. They actually destroy liquidity in the non-government sector (by destroying net financial assets held by that sector). They squeeze the capacity of the non-government sector to spend and save. If there are no other behavioural changes in the economy to accompany the pursuit of budget surpluses, then the private sector is forced to increase its private debt levels to sustain demand and then when this option is exhausted, aggregate demand falls and consequently wipes out non-government saving.

Pro-active fiscal policy will allow the private sector to have healthier finances by providing spending stimulus over time to generate income growth (and private saving) when it is targeted toward creating full employment, not bank bailouts. Bad fiscal policy, by contrast, simply reflects a collapse in private spending and correspondingly lower tax revenues, and the concomitant failure of governments to act so as to prevent increased social welfare payments (such as unemployment insurance or food stamps) from coming into play as a result of this declining economic activity.

It is clear that if resources are fully utilised then choices have to be made on appropriate use. These choices will be political in nature. That is the only constraint which exists. Rubin clearly doesn’t understand this, so he is in no way suited to offer any kind of advice (other than how to blow up an economy via reckless banking practices).

These people are never shamed by their actions. Fortunately, society was spared their advice for several months – but now they are back, akin to the bad aftertaste of greasy pizza that one belches out after a particularly gruesome serving. I’m just waiting for the day when Bernie Madoff will be writing an article for Newsweek, expounding on how we can improve financial regulation.

Also see my related post at New Deal 2.0 “Deficit Hawking: A New Year Opens with the Same Bad Old Ideas.”


Getting the Economy Back On Track – Robert Rubin, Newsweek

  1. LavrentiBeria says

    :-) :-)

  2. Matt Stiles says

    “First, budget deficits build productive infrastructure which exerts a positive influence on economic growth.”Correct! Except when they’re used for foreign wars, kickbacks to corporate interests, the payment of interest accrued, or any kind of political pork that gets tacked on to spending bills. A large majority in other words.”Second, budget deficits typically help stimulate investment because they keep aggregate demand from plummeting”And what if aggregate demand was already too high? Who knows what the “right” level of aggregate demand is? What if demand from one part of the economy (production goods, lets say) wants to rise, yet all the “stimulus” gets directed toward consumption goods? Who is best suited to direct this capital? Is it you? Someone else? Or an imaginary omniscient gremlin that you’re not telling us about? So many questions. So few answers…

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