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Using jargon to deceive, for fun and profit

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Message Ed Martin

An editorial in the New York Times reports that James Cayne, the chairman and former chief executive of Bear Stearns had stock worth $1 billion a year ago and that is now worth "as little as $14 million" on Sunday.

$14 million is not little.  It would take a person considered comfortably well off about 4 or 5 lifetimes to make that much.

The editorial quotes E. Stanley O'Neal, the former chief executive of Merrill Lynch: "I received no bonus for 2007, no severance pay, no golden parachute."  Poor baby.  Whining about his perceived right to extra goodies for being fired for incompetence.  The average person receives nothing when being let go for no reason at all.

Further on, the editorial talks about how these high priced executive's "remuneration" should be based on performance and how they should get their "compensation."  By remuneration and compensation, they mean money, lots of money.  Compensation for what?  To compensate means to re-pay, to recompense, to reimburse.  These guys owe compensation to the companies they destroyed.

In the same edition, Paul Krugman points out that, "in the old system, savers had federally insured deposits in tightly regulated savings banks, and the banks used that money to make home loans."  In other words the bank held the loan, and if the loan defaulted, you were insured against the bank's loss, and that was the end of it.

In a revealing sentence that brings to light the whole, sorry scam, Krugman says, "this was partly replaced by a system in which savers put their money in funds that bought asset-backed commercial paper from special investment vehicles that bought collateralized debt obligations created from securitized mortgages - with nary a regulator in sight."  This is the opposite of the old system.

Notice the sequential jargon used by the financial wizards, (commercial paper, SIV, CDO, securitized mortgages) to obscure the fact that the whole string of jargon starts with the term asset-backed.  What they're calling an asset is the money they've loaned out that they do not have.  It's actually a debt owed that has not been repaid.  An asset is what you can hold in your hand.  A debt owed you is not an asset, it's a liability.  You don't have it and you might not ever get it back.  The jargon covers that up, calling it a secure asset when in fact it is a very risky proposition, as the collapse of their companies proves.

The securitized mortgages term has the same flaw.  You can't call a mortgage secure.  Secure means, "free from or not exposed to danger or harm, safe."  Since a mortgage might or might not be repaid, it is not in any way secure.  To call a debt an asset and to call a mortgage secure is to deceive with jargon.

What these guys want is a guaranteed return on investment.  But, there's no such thing.  They want to take the risk of winning without taking the risk of losing.  Going into the business of manipulating money for profit, loaning out money, selling your debts owed as an asset is the same as going to war.  You might win, you might lose.  Now, they're whining and pissing and moaning about losing to the risk that was there all along.

This whole, sorry mess of the financial wizard's collapse is the explicit proof of the fallacy of the conservative, Republican, hands off, regulation free, laizzes fair economic philosophy that libertarians promote for ideological reasons and Republicans promote for greed.  They've just been proved wrong.

And, now that it's blown up in their faces, we don't see any of them bragging about how wonderful it is that this has happened and taking credit for how their carefully thought out policies have created this disaster.

It's impossible to be sympathetic with or feel the least bit sorry for a guy who's left with, "as little as $14 million."


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Ed Martin is an ordinary person who is recovering from being badly over-educated. Born in the middle of the Great Depression, he is not affiliated with nor a member of any political, social or religious organization. He is especially interested in (more...)
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