US Chamber of Commerce losing patience with Republicans

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner speaks at the Economic Club of New York May 9, 2011. Boehner, the top Republican in the U.S. Congress, on Monday laid down a tough new yardstick in talks over the nation’s debt, telling Wall Street that spending cuts must exceed any boost to the U.S. borrowing limit. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES – Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS)

The Chamber of Commerce supported Republicans in 2010 with a ton of financial support, assuming that the GOP would be pro-business. Instead, the House Republicans and most Republican Senators are more than happy to hold the American economy hostage to their ideological demands.

The Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Congress on Friday urging legislators to quickly raise the debt ceiling, while also warning of catastrophe should the government continue spending at its current rate.

The Chamber, which represents business interests, helped elect many of the Republican members of Congress who are now threatening to vote against raising the debt ceiling. Republicans are demanding major cuts to government spending and long-term programs in return for their support.

The Chamber understands the consequences of messing around with the full faith and credit of the United States, while the Tea Party crowd seems happy to let the whole system collapse just to make a point. Remember the TARP vote and how many Republicans were willing to let all the banks collapse? Nobody should be surprised.


TARP was a huge success

Robert Samuelson is a grouch. Nobody would ever accuse him of looking at the sunny side of things, particularly when it comes to budgetary matters.

With that in mind, here’s his sober assessment of TARP.

It isn’t often that the government launches a major program that achieves its main goals at a tiny fraction of its estimated costs. That’s the story of TARP — the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Created in October 2008 at the height of the financial crisis, it helped stabilize the economy, used only $410 billion of its authorized $700 billion and will be repaid most of that. The Congressional Budget Office, which once projected TARP’s ultimate cost at $356 billion, now says $19 billion. This could go lower.

Almost everyone loves to hate TARP. It’s a favorite political sport of liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats — and the public. A Bloomberg poll last October asked how TARP had affected the economy. The results: 43 percent said it weakened the economy; 21 percent said it made no difference; only 24 percent said it helped, with 12 percent unsure one way or another. Commentators in newspapers from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times disparage TARP.


One lesson of the financial crisis is this: When the entire financial system succumbs to panic, only the government is powerful enough to prevent a complete collapse. Panics signify the triumph of fear. TARP was part of the process by which fear was overcome. It wasn’t the only part, but it was an essential part. Without TARP, we’d be worse off today. No one can say whether unemployment would be 11 percent or 14 percent; it certainly wouldn’t be 8.9 percent.

That benefited all Americans. TARP, says Douglas Elliott of the Brookings Institution, “is the best large federal program to be despised by the public.”

This demonstrates just how out of touch many Americans are these days. Sure, there’s plenty of justifiable anger. But this program served its purpose.


Will Mubarak be able to keep his fortune?

Now that Hosni Mubarak has stepped down as dictator President of Egypt, it will be fascinating from a business a criminal point of view to see what happens to the fortune he has amassed on the backs of his people.

But over the last 20 years, Mubarak, his family and his close circle of advisers have enriched themselves through partnerships in powerful Egyptian companies, profiting from their political power, according to numerous reports. The 82-year-old leader and his two sons also wield the levers of the government, including the military and the country’s preeminent political party, to reward friends and punish enemies.

Mubarak — who stepped down on Friday in the wake of massive protests that have gripped Cairo and Alexandria for weeks — and his family have a net worth of at least $5 billion, analysts tell The Huffington Post. Recent media reports pegging the family fortune at between $40 and $70 billion are considered to be exaggerated.

Much of their fortune has reportedly been invested in offshore bank accounts in Europe and in upscale real estate. On Friday, Switzerland froze accounts possibly belonging to Mubarak and his family, a spokesman told Reuters, under new laws governing ill-gotten gains. Last month, the Swiss froze the accounts of Mubarak’s ally, ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose overthrow inspired the first protests in Cairo.

The family owns tons of real estate throughout Europe and the rest of the world, along with stakes in numerous companies.

If Switzerland starts getting tough with them, there will be pressure for the rest of the world to do so as well. This will likely get ugly . . .


The President’s economic team

Larry Summers (R), an economic advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner attend the announcement of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board in the East Room of the White House in Washington, in this February 6, 2009 file photo. Blunt, brash, brainy and occasionally self-mocking. Larry Summers, the White House economic adviser, is all of these things. In a career spanning academia, government and finance, he has rubbed some people the wrong way and infuriated others. To match SPECIAL REPORT - SUMMERS   REUTERS/Jim Young/Files  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS HEADSHOT)

Here’s an excellent article on how the White House economic team is organized. When you read about the President’s economic advisers, this article can help you understand how they all work together. It can also help you understand how different personalities work together, from Christina Romer to Larry Summers to Tim Geithner.

Thanks to Ezra Klein for the link. Ezra also has a great post on how Larry Summers might now be the ideal candidate to run the National Economic Council, given the nature of his personality.


Boutique investment banking firms are back

WASHINGTON - APRIL 20: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) is introduced by investment banker Roger Altman before speaking at the Mayflower Hotel April 20, 2010 in Washington, DC. Biden delivered remarks to the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project forum on 'From Recession to Recovery to Renewal.' (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Wall Street went crazy over the past 15 years, and we had mega-banks gobbling up prominent investment houses, and then making risky trades on their own account with the stockholders, and then the U.S. taxpayers footing the bill.

Now things are changing, hopefully in a good way.

It’s been a miserable few years for investment banks. Between epochal meltdowns, shotgun marriages, a federal pay czar, congressional investigations, reform legislation, and SEC lawsuits, even the proudest firms have been flayed (often for good reason). One of the less publicized results of that tumult has been an exodus of talent. But many bankers aren’t fleeing Wall Street — they’re fleeing to the other side of the Street: small boutique firms that eschew the proprietary trading and lending to their clients that the giant banks emphasize. These younger firms hark back to a venerable model of financial firms, selling only advice.

The biggest and fastest-rising of these outfits is Evercore Partners (EVR), headed by Roger Altman, the ultraconnected former U.S. Treasury official, and Ralph Schlosstein, a superstar who joined the firm last year from BlackRock (BLK, Fortune 500). Evercore shuns risk — no trading for its own account, no lending — and prides itself on avoiding everything that brought the Citigroups (C, Fortune 500) and Goldman Sachses (GS, Fortune 500) to grief. Instead, Evercore’s main service is providing advice to CEOs on mergers and restructurings.

This is the way it should be.


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