Hank Paulson, The Bush Treasury Department, And Crony Capitalism
Guess who got advance warning of government actions on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis?
Bloomberg is out with a rather astonishing, and yet not astonishing, report of how Hank Paulson, then George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary, met with a group of hedge fund managers in August 2008 and basically tipped them off to the government’s plans with regard to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were in financial turmoil due to the ongoing collapse of the housing market:
On the morning of July 21, before the Eton Park meeting, Paulson had spoken to New York Times reporters and editors, according to his Treasury Department schedule. A Times article the next day said the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency were inspecting Fannie and Freddie’s books and cited Paulson as saying he expected their examination would give a signal of confidence to the markets.
At the Eton Park meeting, he sent a different message, according to a fund manager who attended. Over sandwiches and pasta salad, he delivered that information to a group of men capable of profiting from any disclosure.
Around the conference room table were a dozen or so hedge- fund managers and other Wall Street executives — at least five of them alumni of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), of which Paulson was chief executive officer and chairman from 1999 to 2006. In addition to Eton Park founder Eric Mindich, they included such boldface names as Lone Pine Capital LLC founder Stephen Mandel, Dinakar Singh of TPG-Axon Capital Management LP and Daniel Och of Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC.
After a perfunctory discussion of the market turmoil, the fund manager says, the discussion turned to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Paulson said he had erred by not punishing Bear Stearns shareholders more severely. The secretary, then 62, went on to describe a possible scenario for placing Fannie and Freddie into “conservatorship” — a government seizure designed to allow the firms to continue operations despite heavy losses in the mortgage markets.
As Felix Salmon put it, who did Hank Paulson think he was working for in the summer of 2008, the taxpayers or the hedge funds? Apparently, what Paulson did is entirely legal (of course), although the report goes on to note that one of the managers that was present for the meeting called his lawyer later that day and was told not to act on any of the information Paulson had shared because it could constitute “non-public information” and thus covered by insider trading laws. It’s unknown if any of the other managers acted on Paulson’s information, though, and it’s apparently not possible to even determine that based solely on publicly available information. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first report of something like this that we’ve gotten. Back in 2009, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book revealed that Paulson had met with the entire board of Goldman Sachs in a hotel suite in Moscow when they all happened to be there at the same time. Sorkin’s account of that meeting is worth quoting:
When Paulson learned that Goldman’s board would be in Moscow at the same time as him, he had [Treasury chief of staff] Jim Wilkinson organize a meeting with them. Nothing formal, purely social — for old times’ sake.
For fuck’s sake! Wilkinson thought. He and Treasury had had enough trouble trying to fend off all the Goldman Sachs conspiracy theories constantly being bandied about in Washington and on Wall Street. A private meeting with its board? In Moscow?
For the nearly two years that Paulson had been Treasury secretary he had not met privately with the board of any company, except for briefly dropping by a cocktail party that Larry Fink’s BlackRock was holding for its directors at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi in June.
Anxious about the prospect of such a meeting, Wilkinson called to get approval from Treasury’s general counsel. Bob Hoyt, who wasn’t enamored of the “optics” of such a meeting, said that as long as it remained a “social event,” it wouldn’t run afoul of the ethics guidelines.
Still, Wilkinson had told [Goldman chief of staff John] Rogers, “Let’s keep this quiet,” as the two coordinated the details. They agreed that Goldman’s directors would join him in his hotel suite following their dinner with Gorbachev. Paulson would not record the “social event” on his official calendar…
“Come on in,” a buoyant Paulson said as he greeted everyone, shaking hands and giving bear hugs to some.
For the next hour, Paulson regaled his old friends with stories about his time in Treasury and his prognostications about the economy. They questioned him about the possibility of another bank blowing up, like Lehman, and he talked about the need for the government to have the power to wind down troubled firms, offering a preview of his upcoming speech.
As Salmon asked both back in 2009 and now, under what conceivable set of facts could Paulson have thought that this was even remotely acceptable:
When we found out about the Moscow meeting, I asked how on earth Paulson thought such behavior was OK. But now I think he was downright pathological in giving inside information to his old Wall Street buddies. And the crazy thing is that we have no idea how many of these meetings there were, or how long they went on for — the only way that we ever find out about them is when reporters like Sorkin or Bloomberg’s Richard Teitelbaum manage to find a source who was in the meeting and is willing to talk about what happened.
Given that it’s taken two years since the release of Sorkin’s book for the Eton Park meeting to be made public, it’s fair to assume that there were other meetings, too — possibly many others. Paulson was giving inside tips to Wall Street in general, and to Goldman types in particular: exactly the kind of behavior that “Government Sachs” conspiracy theorists have been speculating about for years. Turns out, they were right.
Sadly, at least judging by Memeorandum, there seems to be very little coverage of this in the conservative blogosphere, perhaps because this is a story about the Bush Administration. That’s unfortunate, because this is precisely the kind of crony capitalism that many on the right seem to be accusing the the Obama Administration of (appropriately in many circumstances), and it establishes beyond a doubt that this is something that both parties have been guilty of throughout the years. Even if there isn’t anything technically illegal about what Paulson did, the fact that he did it is yet another example of the incestuous relationship between government and business that corrupts both, distorts the market, and ends up costing the taxpayers billions if not trillions of dollars somewhere down the line. I’m in complete agree with Rod Dreher, when he says that Congress should investigate this. They won’t do it, of course, for fear of shining light on all the cockroaches that traverse the halls of Capitol Hill, the White House, and most of official Washington.
Photo via Reuters
“… this is precisely the kind of crony capitalism that many on the right seem to be accusing the the Obama Administration of (appropriately in many circumstances), and it establishes beyond a doubt that this is something that both parties have been guilty of throughout the years.”
What are you referring to here? Is it loans to the solar energy industry? Or what? I’m not being argumentative, I”m genuinely confused.
Many things ranging from Solyndra type deals, to the government’s unprecedented and totally inappropriate intervention in the bankruptcy process for General Motors and Chrysler, the initial bailout loans to those entities (started by Bush, of course), and the Obama Administration’s own ties to Wall Street and the banks.
Or are you going to deny that there’s any crony capitalism in the Obama Administration? How’s that unicorn working out for you?
So that would put Salmon, Mataconis and Occupy Wall Street all on the same side. Right?
We have to separate Big Money and Big Politics. We have a corrupt government that still acts to thwart some of Big Money’s worst excesses but fails to thwart others because Big Money and Big Government apparently lunch together on a regular basis.
The libertarian solution — making government smaller is facile nonsense. Making government smaller doesn’t make Big Money smaller, it means Big Money can still buy whatever government is left and then run around entirely unopposed by another counterbalancing force, even a corrupt one.
The solution is to separate Big Money and Big Government. Unfortunately the GOP and its pet Supremes have labored unceasingly to bring the two together, to in fact turn government into a wholly-owned subsidiary of Big Money.
The solution here is the liberal one: deprive corporations of “personhood,” publicly fund campaigns and shut the revolving door.
I can’t imagine where the OWS protesters get the idea we are playing in a rigged game…
Doug, that was unnecessary. Stan asked an honest question. You gave an honest answer, explaining exactly what you were talking of, and than insulted him, gratuitously at that. If you are trying to have a conversation with someone, that is not the way to do it.
It’s a fair question given the commentary I’ve seen from many on the left about how bad Wall Street is. They fail to see that their people, and the government they love so much, are just as guilty
I’m glad this story is breaking out of the Econ pages.
(And yes, the irony that Dough “I don’t hear what OWS is saying” Mataconis breaks it here is rich.)
Dude. That sentence should disqualify from ever again posting rational political debate.
Hang it up.
Realizing that government is necessary does not equate to “love”. I know I have to go to the dentist at least twice a year. That does not mean I love it. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone express love for the government in here.
You are piling one lame comment on top of another.
There are some functions for which government is necessary, there are others for which it is not, and still others for which it is actually harmful. It would be helped for the #OWS crowd if they’d realize the differences
Of course. But the fact that someone disagrees with you on how that breaks down does not make them wrong. I’m sorry, but your comments belong in a high school newspaper. One expects this sort of callow commentary there.
While we are at it, how about sharing a few instances of comments in here where folks have expressed their “love” for the government? It ought to be a snap…
It’s nice to see some capital J – Journalism instead of the stenography that more often than not passes for journalism today.
Reynolds might be correct – time to weld the revolving door shut.
On the other hand it may be easier to go to the other extreme and allow corporations (other than Romney) to run for public office as the Supreme Court (a Koch Brothers subsidiary) clearly intended to do with their Citizens United ruling. At least then companies like Goldman Sachs would have some accountability to the voters.
In either case this story kind of puts the lie to de-regulation. Once again Libertarian fantasies fail when exposed to the real world.
Can you give me a cogent argument why, under a, say, Nozickian-style libertarian regime, the end result would not be stone oligarchy?
For starters, Fannie and Freddie would never have existed, and should never have existed. The government does not belong in the mortgage loan business.
BS One of the primary gripes of OWS is that the 1% exerts control on the government, by virtue of money and access, that the 99% cannot…and does so in a piss-poor manner. Control would imply a complicit government…unless of course you are a partisan hack bent on arguing against strawmen.
@Hey Norm: @Hey Norm:
Until they recognize that Big Business and Big Government are two sides of the same problem, OWS will continue to be incoherent.
Really, are you considering that an argument in response to my asking for one?
The best answer to your question can be found in Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia.
And, of course, Nozick is but one libertarian theorist and hardly the most influential.
Except for the real world fact that some people are unable to get mortgages from the private sector for any number of reasons which are not their fault. Medicare too was necessary because the private sector was not interested in insuring the elderly. Minorities, the poor, the sick, and the elderly all get fisted by your beloved Invisible Hand. Until that fallcy in Libertarian fantasies changes Government has a role in supplying what the private sector will not or cannot.
OWS is only incoherent to you because you choose to consider them incoherent. Your bigotry on this topic is well established.
Are you seriously asking us to believe that in the absence of “Big Government” there would be no “Big Business”? That the wealthy and the powerful would not incessantly scheme to become even more wealthy and more powerful? To manipulate whatever levers exist to become more wealthy and more powerful? Can you point us any instance in history where this has not been the case?
Okay so it’s bigotry to disagree with you. Wow. Okay. Later.
Thats not what I said and you know it.
The only thing missing from you today re: OWS is a drum circle comment.
But feel free to run away and pout.
If Doug starts being polite to liberals, he’ll lose street cred with all the D-List wingnut bloggers he’s in constant contact with via twitter.
Pardon me for not taking seriously people who refuse to behave like serious adults.
Like I’ve said repeatedly, let them get involved, advocate policies, back candidates. That’s what America is about, not camping out in a park at night, shouting down your opponents, drum circles, and crapping on cop cars.
Ah the conservative/libertarian credo – “If only everyone was just like me, what a wonderful world this would be”…
No, it’s the normal Americans credo. You really think people in Peoria were impressed by the antics in Zuccotti Park? My conversations with family over Thanksgiving make it pretty clear it sure isn’t playing well in the sticks.
Protest movements are expressions of anger at problems or situations…and it is not necessarily their role to “get involved”. Of the original Tea Party participants a small handful ever became famous for being “involved”. And who claims to know for sure that no one amongst the OWS hordes might become significant in the future? It’s a bit early to judge if you ask me…but it’s your strawman we are arguing. That the OWS movement does not meet your baseless expectations matters not one whit. What does matter is that they have already succeeded in changing the national conversation…even Santorum is now talking about class mobility. According to Politico:
But you should just keep on keeping on with the drum circle comments.
hehehe…family political discussions at Thanksgiving…how lame.
Please don’t compare the T.E.A. Party with the lawless OWS fiasco….It is a completely ridiculous comparison. Like apples and boobytraped hand grenades…
@Doug Mataconis: “Fannie and Freddie would never have existed, and should never have existed.”
I’m not surprised by your “screw those guys” attitude toward those who were only able to buy homes because of Frannie and Freddie, but you do realize they were only minor players in the housing/financial crisis?
@Doug Mataconis: “My conversations with family over Thanksgiving make it pretty clear it sure isn’t playing well in the sticks.”
I’m not sure the family that either produced or puts up with you is a representative example of society at large.
Fairly often an embedded photo on the OTB front page just spanks the snot out of my browser. The Paulson & Bush photo loads sooooo slooooowly.
Anyone else seeing this?
The plural of Thanksgiving anecdata is usually a Friedmanesque “I was taking a cab home from the airport and, oddly enough, the taxi driver completely agreed with the thesis for the column I’m writing now.”
Drum circles and tantric sex lectures in Tent # 5. How stupid
It was not a fair question in any way shape or form. It was insulting. And for you, of all people, to accuse somebody of believing in unicorns is so ludicrous, I wonder that you can type it and keep a straight face.
Free Markets. That unicorn has never existed, and never will.
I can only imagine what narrow-minded, and myopic comments you would have written re: the hippies at the anti-war protests during the Vietnam era. What matters though is that they changed the world…not where they crapped or what instruments they played. You should continue to focus on what interests you though.
Depends on my browser. Opera is very fast, Firefox is very slow. (Linux)
@Doug Mataconis: Yes, Doug. Let them all get involved by advocating policies and backing candidates. Because their voices will be heard loud and clear.
Oh, wait, didn’t you just post a long article pointing out the entirely corrupt collusion between the secretary of the treasury and the world’s biggest investment bankers, where he gave them insider information so they could cash in the coming crash — the crash they caused?
Gosh, if only liberals had advocated more policies, maybe Paulson wouldn’t have done this! Maybe if we had mentioned the growing wealth gap in the country, people would have done something about it.
Except of course liberals have been advocating policies and backing candidates all along — and what did it get us? The entire establishment — government, business, and press — all buying into the absurd notion that our only problem was the deficit and the only way to fix it was to take money from the poor and middle class and funnel it back to the rich.
And it stayed like that – until a bunch of people were actually willing to camp out in that park until someone listened. Yeah, drum circles and everything. And it worked. The conversation has changed.
Tell me, Doug. You advocate policies. You back candidates. How much change have you effected in the world lately?
@OzarkHillbilly: Thanks, but don’t worry about my feelings being hurt. I’ve been savaged by a sheep.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an author hijack his own thread 10 comments in.
If she’s a witch, she will float.
If she’s innocent…well, she’ll drown.
Go read your comments on this article and realize your complete hypocrisy. Most are written with the discourse level of an angst filled teenager.
By your own professed standard, you are not worth taking seriously.
I can only conclude that some drum circle kids beat Doug up after school at some point and he has not been able to resolve the issue internally.
As for Thanksgiving chatter, around here it was pretty sympathetic to OWS in general.
I am also going to suggest we start Fantasy Drum Circle Teams. I am drafting Eldon Jones, Chick Webb, Tony Williams & Ansley Dunbar…
@sam: Firefox is loading it very quickly for me.
@sam: I’d like to see Doug give a real response to this concern.
WR, as the saying goes, is da man…
They fail to see that their people, and the government they love so much, are just as guilty
Wrong. We just don’t believe the answer is to destroy the government. We think there is a better way.
I’m a liberal, and I in no way, shape or form believe that Democrats are immune from corruption and crony capitalism. It’s built into the system we have created, so we need to change the system, not destroy the government. One answer is to do what we can to take the influence of corporate cash out of elections, but since the SCOTUS has ruled that money is speech, and therefore can not be restricted in any effective way, that will take a lot of work, and probably some changes to the Constitution. No easy task.
It’s simple really. We want to separate the lopsided influence of monied interests from the government, which inevitably leads to pay-for-play, crony capitalism, etc.. You want to make the government nonfunctional, because you seem to think that a nonfunctioning government can’t be corrupt, when in fact such governments tend to be even more corrupt. One way is tough, but might do some good. The other way will do only harm.
I know this is simplistic, but a simplistic argument is all that is warranted when the other side actually believes that liberals love government and think nothing the government can do is wrong. Those unicorns are made of straw, Doug.
Asking Doug to not punch hippies is like asking Sammy Hagar to drive 55 or Sir Mix-A-Lot to hate Big Butts.
Stan, no offense, this is not about you. I have seen Doug play this game time and again. “i know you are, but what am I?” and “You are a poopy head.” are 2 of Doug’s favorite arguments… and because he is a front pager it strikes me as more than a little bit of bully-ism. Which I hate.
I suspect that you are more than a little like me…. You had your feelings surgically removed years ago.
Hmm, my discussions with my family of farmers (rural southern Indiana, town of less than 3,000. About 60 miles away from anything that can be considered a ‘city’) leads me to believe that OWS is ringing quite well.
Good thing anecdotes can be used to extrapolate, right?
looks like somebody fell into a pit full of rattledonkeys…..lol…and I don’t mean snakes, I mean jacka$$es with baby rattles…(wink)
And then some of them have the brains or lack there of to accuse Doug of bullying the poo butt cry bullies who make up the OWS monkey crap fight….Geez..
And was up with this? it is one on one, one on two or two on three or one against and pack of crazed libs…Why you gotta bring dudes family up in here?
New ad for Occupy Wall Street. I didn’t hear any drums. Must be fake.
@Neil Hudelson: Or we can consider the feelings of those who reside in Shannon Co. MO. That will be enlightening…..
Sorry, should be “Elvin Jones”
Until they recognize that Big Business and Big Government are two sides of the same problem, OWS will continue to be incoherent.
Since there wasn’t a reply, I would restate the point this way-
Doug you obviously wish to reduce Big Government- but wouldn’t that simply leave the power of Big Business unchecked by anything?
The genius of the Founders was that they grasped the essential principle that power corrupts, and without some inherent checks and balance, any entity can become oppressive, wether it is government or business.
Interesting, Doug, how you term Big Business and Big Government as two sides of the same coin- Libertarianism and Socialism are like that, in that one gives unchecked power to the state, the other gives unchecked power to private sector, and they both fail for the same reason.
P.S. I admit to being disappointed in how little change was effected by drum circles, but tantric sex seems to really be working out great.
GA showing us once again that wingnuts are always the victim.
Even though it was Doug who brought up his family, he is the victim.
“Until they recognize that Big Business and Big Government are two sides of the same problem, OWS will continue to be incoherent.”
We had Big Business and corruption during the 1800s when government was tiny. I fail to see how Doug’s argument holds, unless you are willing to ignore history.
Nature abhors a vacuum.
Nah, Doug’s probably just the typical libertarian. Privileged white kid that didn’t want to be like the hippies he when to college with. Contrarianism has brought down many a greater mind than Mataconis’s. Just look at The New Republic.
But it’s funny though. We get Doug flailing away at OWS and trying to articulate some seemingly impossible problem between the collusion of government and business… mean Reynolds already stated the progressive solution to the problem in the goddamn third comment.
Not everybody can be Ezra Klein.
Doug provides us quantity, not quality.
And there’s nothing wrong with dining at McDonald’s once in a while.
Keith Moon, John Bonham, and Mickey Hart.
I like the mushroom Swiss burger.
But it isn’t available all the time.
I am prepared to legally change my name to ‘Mean Reynolds.’
Just not not every day – ask Spurlock.
Don’t let others define you.
Think outside the box.
“Mean” is fine if it tickles your fancy, but if you’re gonna go hardcore, go radical HARDCORE!
How about “Badass”? “Nanner Puss”? “Cookie Bear”? “Cornish Game Hen”? “Sir Pounce-a-lot”?
The possibilities are endless.
Well it looks like my scattershot method of thinking (which leads to me stopping mid-sentence and mid-word to go back to edit other things i’ve already written… leaving somethings undone, and now that i think about it, this parenthetical sidebar is a perfect example and if I it didn’t relate to me not finishing my thoughts, there’s a good chance I would have forgot to finish this sentence) has finally paid off.
@de stijl: @Console:
Proud moment in my life: I was the restaurant reviewer for the newspaper in Maine. I was still working in the restaurant bidness which was a slight ethical, um, oversight. But anyway, I was a tough reviewer.
One night a stunning redhead comes into the restaurant where I’m working. Think young Lauren Bacall but with red hair. It seem she works at a restaurant I just trashed. She looks at me, bleary, drunk on margaritas, talking through cigarette smoke, amazingly hot and says, “I know you: you’re the mean man.”
Doug, everybody….ecerybody in the USA new that Obama bailed out the car compoanies..right or wrong, everyone KNEW. Nobody…and I repeat NOBODY knew about Paulson meeting (possibly numerous times) with GC executives and hedge-fund manegers. Your attempts to turn this into “they all do it” are transparent.
both parties? of course. but lets remember, as i have been saying since the 80s… Bush… either one… was no conservative.
Great choices. “My Wife” may be the single best drum track I have ever heard. I am still trying to figure Bonham’s stuff out. Zepplin was scary good.
Some members of the Hart clan used to hang out at my place back in the day, though I never met him. It was fun growing up in Dead country. Jerry used to come into a club I worked at to jam when we had bands like the Neville Brothers. The guy was a real hippie – loved music, did not really care too much about money.
Ha! Great story. Okay, you convinced me – go with “Mean” (I reserve the right to steal Sir Pounce-a-lot, though.)
I really, really need to put To Have and Have Not on my Netflix queue. It’s been years since I’ve seen and it and, my sweet Lord, an 19 year old Lauren Bacall is a sight to behold. “Put your lips together and blow” maybe the best line ever to escape the Hays Code’s notice.
You’ve got to almost feel sorry for bit – he actually thinks “conservatives” are the cool kids, and he is one of the boys…
To successfully pull off “Mean” you have to have a mean mien.
Practice your war face.
Please provide examples of gov’t being harmful…not opnions..facts..examples where oiv’t action cost lives, ruined the environment, contributed to the morbidity and mortality of the population. I am waiting, because I have examples of numerous gov’t actions/rules/laws that save lives, decrease human morbidity, and attempt to decrease corruption.
It’s easy not to care about $$$ when you have a ton of it…not to take anything away from him though. We have a saying in our firm…do something cool-the money will follow.
Keith Moon was a freak…it’s hard to even understand an explanation of what he was doing it was so out there.
This is immensely stupid. Of course government can be harmful and often is. Hell, there is a Fugitive Slave clause in Article 4 of the Constitution. Harm is baked into the DNA of government.
To answer your challenge:
WW2 Japanese internments
The Iraq War (actually any war causes stupendous amounts of harm)
The list of government caused or sanctioned harm is so enormous you could not list it all.
But government is necessary. And it can be, and often is, as helpful as it harmful. To claim that government is always bad or always good is just foolishly naive.
The trick is to make government to be more helpful than harmful.
Act 1: Doug pens a compilation of somewhat childish, incentive-filled portfolio of criticisms on the Occupy protests. His main complaints include their “love of government”, “lack of policy proposals” and “drum circles”. A variety of OTB commentators try and point out that Doug’s own carping about “crony capitalism” fits right in with OWS’s general critique.
Act 2: Doug publishes a piece in which he is gobsmacked that those with large amounts of wealth and political influence would collude together and disseminate information that would be pertinent to their wealth and power.
Act 3: The predicable slew of OTB commentators point to Doug, again, there’s a degree of cognitive dissonance between being for “limited government” and in turn decrying the lack of government oversight on official conduct. Doug lashes out; takes his ball home.
Seriously, the answer to this is not to shrink government (though that may, in certain situations, be the right choice. It’s just not a solution to our wealthy overlords running wild).
It’s tough. On the one hand, we need our government to be somewhat adversarial toward the private sector. On the other hand, we don’t want it to be too adversarial, since jobs are pretty important. Striking the right balance is hard. I think we’re out of balance (and the conservatives/libertarians think so too, but in another way).
McNuggets, not Coq au vin.
Enjoy the atrocities as Doug posts something stupid just to piss off liberals but ends up screaming at everyone.