Galbraith also sets forth his ideas on breaking the hold that finance has on the government.
Finance as Wealth Transfer mechanism: An Interview with James Galbraith
Interviewed by Philip Pilkington - Naked Capitalism
In the United States, the government has the power to bring the financial sector under control. It should use that power. Our problem is that the financial sector controls those parts of the government that set policy for finance. The banks are leading funders for presidential campaigns. The leading personnel in the Treasury and other financial agencies come from the banks, and if they do a good job (from the banks’ point of view), they can be confident that a lucrative sinecure awaits them, back at the banks, later on. This provides a very strong disciplinary effect on their conduct in office.
So – where to start? I’d *start* by breaking that link between the banking sector and the public sector.
One practical way would be to create a truly independent, effective and well-financed financial crimes enforcement unit, beyond the control of the political appointees at the Department of Justice, Treasury and the captive regulatory agencies. Also restore mark-to-market accounting and place the full control of audits and stress tests in hands that do not have an obvious conflict of interest viz. the results.Read the entire interview here
PP: People in the US – especially due to the Occupy movement – are becoming increasingly concerned about campaign financing by, among other groups, the banks. This seems to be the tie between the two sectors that ensures nothing gets done about Big Finance. I understand that you’ve spent some time around policy circles and the like. Maybe you could say something about this, the effect it has on regulation and policymaking and the potential to do something about it?
JG: I was on the staff of the House Banking Committee in the second half of the 1970s. At that time, the Committee hearing room in the Rayburn Building had just two rows of desks for members. Today there are four rows, and barely space for a table of witnesses, let alone anyone else. In other words, the size of the Committee has about doubled.
Why is this? Because the leadership in the House uses that committee as a fund-raising magnet, especially for Members who might be a little bit vulnerable. Once a Member has a spot on the banking committee, money problems go away. And one can hold practically any position on other issues that may be convenient — liberal, conservative, the banks don’t care. All you have to do is be friendly to bankers.
This is a formula for locking down the Congress. As I said, with the executive branch, it’s a bit different; while campaign financing is a significant question, so too is the actual staffing of the government, which is controlled by bankers; people come in from the banks and go back to the banks. It’s not a secret, for instance, that Robert Rubin’s protégés took a very large share of the top policy positions on economics and finance in the Obama administration — from Larry Summers on down. It’s not a secret that Peter Orszag, the first director of OMB under Obama, took a well-paid position at Citigroup on leaving the White House.
I have no simple formula for dealing with this, beyond what I keep repeating: 1) enforce the laws against financial fraud and 2) downsize the financial sector as a matter of public policy.