I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time…making expiation for itself and wearing out…
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
In 2005, economist Raghuram Rajan, 42 years old at the time, delivered a speech at the annual meeting of the crowned heads and elder statespeople of central banking telling them how those in attendance were brewing up a wicked credit crisis. After the speech, former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers led the charge against Rajan, describing himself as “someone who finds the basic, slightly Luddite premise of this paper to be largely misguided.” According to Bloomberg:
Summers also said “while I think the paper is right to warn us of the possibility of positive feedback and the dangers that it can bring about in financial markets, the tendency toward restriction that runs through the tone of the presentation seems to me to be quite problematic.”
We all know now that Rajan was right and Summers, who had spent several years helping to tear down any restrictions on the gambling and deception by Wall St banks, was wrong in many ways.
India just made Rajan–who clearly saw the financial crisis coming and had the courage and intelligence to publicly state his case to those who were aiding and abetting it–the new head of India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India. And Obama is considering appointing Summers–who aided and abetted the ongoing financial crisis mightily and who didn’t see it coming–the next head of the US central bank, the Federal Reserve. Summers is also infamous for abruptly resigning as the President of Harvard after losses in the endowment fund, his public statement that women are unable to learn science and math as well as men, and a no-confidence motion from the faculty.
Obama’s alternate candidate for the next head of the Federal Reserve is said to be Janet Yellen. She testified to Congress that she didn’t see the financial crisis coming either. Yellen was in charge of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 2004 through 2010. So she was one of the top regulators presiding over the ramping up of the deranged lending that supported the real estate bubble in her territory that included California, Nevada, and Arizona.
So India has appointed someone with a track record of getting economic things right, and who is willing to risk career to state truth about a seriously dysfunctional status quo. And the US is poised to appoint someone who not only got it wrong about the financial crisis, but who, it could easily be argued, was on the team of architects who helped to create it. Worse still, Summers and Yellen have been in positions of financial power since and have done little to solve those architectural problems that still plague the system. My guess is that they have resisted real solutions.
One would think that Obama would prefer to appoint someone like Rajan, who had seen the financial crisis coming. But that is not the way things work in the US. Those who saw it coming would be similar to Rajan in clearly pointing out the structural problems in the US system, and that would seriously step on the toes of the rich and powerful. That is not tolerated at this time in the US.
And this is not limited to the financial sphere. Obama just appointed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to head a commission to review the practices of the NSA despite the fact that Clapper lied at a Senate hearing in March, telling the Senate that the NSA does not collect the phone records of millions of Americans. He has since apologized for his lie. But how can such a person be expected to objectively review the practices of the NSA? Clearly, this is strictly political theater.
India has its problems. In Rajan’s first speech on the job, he went right after the corruption that is plaguing India’s economic system. India, a nation on the rise, is trying to solve its problems. The US, on the other hand, looks like it has no intention of arresting its own decline.