1. Revolving doors in the White House-Treasury-Wall Street complex:
LAST July Peter Orszag stepped down from his post as the head of the Office of Management and Budget. As budget director, Mr Orzsag helped shape the first stimulus package and, more visibly, the health-care reform legislation. Apparently, the market values this sort of experience. Last week, Mr Orszag accepted a senior position at the investment-banking arm of Citigroup, an institution that exists in its present form thanks to massive infusions of taxpayer cash. Exactly how much Citigroup pay Mr Orszag is not public knowledge, but swapping tweed for sharkskin should leave him sitting pretty. Bankers who spoke to the New York Times ballparked his yearly salary at $2-3m.
James Fallows rightly observes that not only is the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street unseemly, its frictionless gliding action suggests corruption is built right into the interface between our government and our great profit-seeking institutions. Mr Fallows hesitates to impugn Mr Orszag's personal character. Who can blame a fella for throwing open the door when extravagent opportunity knocks?!
But in the grander scheme, his move illustrates something that is just wrong. The idea that someone would help plan, advocate, and carry out an economic policy that played such a crucial role in the survival of a financial institution—and then, less than two years after his Administration took office, would take a job that (a) exemplifies the growing disparities the Administration says it's trying to correct and (b) unavoidably will call on knowledge and contacts Orszag developed while in recent public service—this says something bad about what is taken for granted in American public life.
When we notice similar patterns in other countries—for instance, how many offspring and in-laws of senior Chinese Communist officials have become very, very rich—we are quick to draw conclusions about structural injustices. Americans may not "notice" Orszag-like migrations, in the sense of devoting big news coverage to them. But these stories pile up in the background to create a broad American sense that politics is rigged, and opportunity too.
On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.
The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.
Drawn from giants like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the bankers form a powerful committee that helps oversee trading in derivatives, instruments which, like insurance, are used to hedge risk.
In theory, this group exists to safeguard the integrity of the multitrillion-dollar market. In practice, it also defends the dominance of the big banks.
The banks in this group, which is affiliated with a new derivatives clearinghouse, have fought to block other banks from entering the market, and they are also trying to thwart efforts to make full information on prices and fees freely available.
A previous post on ICE is here. It referenced this article