The Great American Bailout of 2008: Where We Were, Where We Are, and Where We're Going, Part I

"I just lost $30,000," replied the shaken caller after a long pause.

It was the fall of 2008, and I had just started work for a large financial services firm as a 401(k) telephone representative.  Little did I know when I took the job a few months earlier that the US, and much of the Western, world, was on the cusp of what many would come to view as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930's. 

The Dow and S&P both were selling off hard, day after day, week after week.  People were scared. 

Many of the panicked calls that I took were people who wanted to know what the balance of their 401(k) account.  In some ways, this struck me as a bit odd.  After all, it was 2008 and the internet had established itself as a staple of American life over a decade earlier.  "Why don't these people just go online?," I wondered to myself.

In retrospect, perhaps one reason people called was that, rather than just watch as the computer screen displayed years of hard won retirement savings evaporate as the morning dew, they just wanted to talk to someone.  That's certainly understandable.

Ten years on, much of the American public thinks of the 2008 crisis, if they think about it at all, as a ancient history.  Just last week, the Dow hit a new record high and seems to be headed higher still. 

President Trump tweeted out back in June, "In many ways this is the greatest economy in the HISTORY of America and the best time EVER to look for a job!"

American consumers seem to agree.  According to the August results from The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, consumer confidence is closing in on a new record high. The record of 144.7 set in May 2000 is just a chip shot away from the August 2018 reading of 133.4.  Considering that the Consumer Confidence Index dates back to 1967 and that this is a widely watch data series, a new record high in this index would represent a significant achievement. 

If we look at the employment picture, everything appears to be headed in the right direction as well.  The Washington Post reported in May, one suspects a bit grudgingly, that The U.S. now has a record 6.6 million job openings.  

According to the article by Heather Long, "The United States now has a job opening for every unemployed person in the country, a sign of just how far the nation has turned around from the recession that cost so many Americans their jobs nearly a decade ago."

Signs of economic success are so abundant that, as CNBC reports, "[Former] President Barak Obama has entered credit-taking mode on the economy."  

Politicians aren't the only ones talking victory laps either.  Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and New York Fed President Timothy Geithner - the principal architects of the 2008 bailout of the financial system - gathered earlier this month at a forum in Washington D.C. to justify their actions of ten years ago.

According to CNBC's report, "We stepped in before the banks had collapsed and we did some things to fix the financial system which are very hard to explain because they are objectionable things," Paulson said.  "In the United States of America there's a fundamental sense of fairness that the American people have. ...You don't want to reward the arsonist."

"However," the article continues, "they [Bernanke, Paulson, and Geithner] said doing nothing would have caused the economy to capsize.  They acknowledged that some of the terms were distasteful, but they were necessary given the options at hand."

In essence, the big three argued that they had to do evil that good might come, a line of thinking condemned in the Scriptures but one that is all too commonly used by vested political and financial interests in midst of financial crises to convince a wary the public to go along with their latest scheme to enrich themselves at the people's expense.

Indeed the moderator of this forum was Andrew Ross Sorkin, who, as the CNBC article notes, wrote the 2010 book Too Big To Fail, The inside story of how Wall Street and Washington fought to save the financial system - and themselves.  described as a chronicle of the 2008 crisis from the inside.  I have not read this book, but the subtitle does, I think, let the cat out of the bag on the true motives of the bailout.

Unlike the unctuous self-justifications of JP Morgan's CEO Jamie Dimon, who recently argued that JP Morgan's actions during the financial crisis were done "to support our country and the financial system," Sorkin's subtitle at least admits the too big to fail meme was all about bankers and politicians saving themselves, not the country.

This is not to fault politicians and bankers for having a sense of self-preservation.  The Scriptures tell us that no man ever yet hated his own flesh, and this certainly includes those who run the political and financial systems. 

No.  The fault of bankers and politicians is not in their having a sense of self-preservation, it's that they lie and steal to get what they want.

In capitalism, in a free market economy, in a nation governed by the rule of law, there is no such thing as too big to fail.  In capitalism, banks have a God given right to make money...and a God given right to lose it. 

But in our decadent, late stage of empire society, dominated as it is by crony capitalists and their supporting cast of politicians, the Wall Street masters of the universe believe themselves entitled to never ending profits, while losses, well, those are for the little people to bear.

It is the opinion of this author that the intertwined political and financial systems of this country, rather than reflecting anything remotely like a Christian ethic, have become the embodiment of what Jesus talked about when he took his disciples to school for their arguing about who was the greatest. 

According to Jesus, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship [lord it over] them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors. ' "

It would be impossible to find a better description of the words of Bernanke, Paulson, Geithner and Dimon than these.  First, they conspired to rip off the American taxpayer by forcing machinations such as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) through Congress as well as the Federal Reserve's Quantitative Easing (QE) program, about which the American people had no say at all, since it was decided upon by the Federal Reserve, an unelected body, paid for by private banking interests, that does not answer to the public. 

TARP and QE were tools of a corrupt and inept financial and political elite, which they used to keep themselves ensconced in power at the expense of ordinary Americans.  To put it another way, they lorded their power over the American people. 

And, as if that weren't bad enough, they then have the gall to turn around and act as if their actions were for the good of the country rather than for themselves.  That is to say, they claim that, in the end, they're really our "benefactors."

And if you think the QE and TARP from 2008 is the end of the bailout road, think again.  Wall Street Insiders reports that during the forum mentioned above, Tim Geithner, "called the effort to combat financial instability a 'forever war.' "  So we have more bailouts to look forward to.  Strangely, this rhetoric is similar to what the advocates of the Global War on Terror say about their efforts, which today have proven largely ineffective. 

Question, if your war on terror, financial instability or whatever has no end in sight, doesn't that suggest you don't know what you're doing?  Can anyone imagine George S. Patton saying such a thing?  Just asking.

Enough of this nonsense!

It is the contention of this author that, contrary to all the self-congratulatory talk about how well the economy is doing, there are abundant signs that all is not well in the US economy.  In fact, one could even argue that we're in the midst of a slow-motion crash, but one that is concealed from public view by money printing, market manipulation and propaganda, what one market observer has called Management of Perspective Economics (MOPE).

Further, it is this author's contention that, not only have the machinations of the political and financial elite not helped to bring stability to the financial system, they actually are the cause the current instability and all but guarantee a future crisis far bigger than the one in 2008. 

Lord willing, it is my intention over the next few weeks to bring the light of Scripture to the 2008 financial crisis.  It is my hope to take a look at what was done then, where we are now, and where we're headed as a result of the decisions that have been made.     

Steve MatthewsComment