The No-Pay Movement
Often also called an activist, Mr. Keiser created quite a stir a few days ago when, on an Al Jazeera program, he claimed that Greece, for the past decade, has fallen victim to the “economic terrorists” of the Wall Street banking systems and the IMF. In the interview which followed, he claimed “if the Greeks want to be protected from the IMF, then they should nationalize their banks thus establishing government owned institutions so as to revive the banking system”, while at the same time “ceasing to pay back the loans which were issued illegally” via “cooking the books” of the Greek economy by Goldman Sachs. He proposed the expulsion from the country of American banks as well as the IMF. The consequence will be “two or three years of heavy recession”, during which time Greece will be able “to rebuild its economy”, ensuring its economic independence.
Since I started covering the financial crisis a year and a half ago, I’ve been getting a lot of letters that say things like, “This all sucks. But what should we do about it? If you don’t have any answers, what’s the point?”
I don’t want to get into this too much since I have more on this coming out in my book, but I would like to point out some of the answers other people are providing to this question. One is this above plan from the hilariously blunt Max Keiser, whose “Goldman Sachs are scum” interview was one of the comedy highlights of 2009.
Keiser in an interview basically says that the debts countries like Greece owe to banks like Goldman, Sachs for loans and rate swaps are illegitimate since they were criminal deals, made with the intent to cook Greece’s books and defraud the citizens of Greece out of their tax money. He therefore proposes that Greece should simply stiff Goldman for those obligations and that, furthermore, American banks should be expelled from the country while the government temporarily nationalizes its banking system and establishes its independence from the financial services industry.
I’m not sure I know enough about what the consequences of a plan like that would be to say whether this is feasible or not. But I think Keiser’s idea does underline an important point about the situation, which is that as powerful as these Wall Street banks may seem, they are also exquisitely vulnerable. Right now virtually all of them are dependent upon the government keeping accounting standards lax enough for all of them to claim to be functional businesses. It is generally accepted that if the major banks on Wall Street were forced to mark all of their assets to market tomorrow, they would all be either insolvent or close to it.
Thus their “healthy” financial status is already illusory. So imagine what would happen if large numbers of those dubious loans on their balance sheets that they have marked down as “performing” were suddenly pushed ahead of time into the default column. What if Greece, and the Pennsylvania school system, and Jefferson County, Alabama, and the countless other municipalities and states that are wrapped up in these corrupt deals just decided to declare their debts illegitimate and back out?
I think it’s an interesting question and would like to hear what knowledgeable people in the field have to say about it. But the big picture, to me, is that these companies are almost totally dependent not only upon the continued good faith of aggrieved debtors, but upon the government recognizing the (sometimes fraudulent) loans made to those debtors as fully performing. I’m waiting for some canny politician to use those two facts as a hammer to make them all get in line. Thoughts?