Dan Katz (Michigan State), Michael James Bommarito, Tyler Soellinger (Michigan State), and Jim Chen (Michigan State) have posted a new paper that studies empirically the impact of SCOTUS opinions on the share prices of the winning and losing corporate parties. WSJ Blog blurb here. As corporate law professors know, the SCOTUS docket is not mainly corporate law cases or cases in which one corporation's prospects might be substantially changed (employment case, etc.), but the study did find 79 cases in the relevant period that seem to match changes in stock price equal to $140 billion.
Why do the authors think that's important? Obviously, in cases in which corporations get large securities fraud lawsuits dismissed or on the other hand, get a ruling that opens the door to a class action or multiple lawsuits, the share price could react. But what the authors are really interested is predicting that movement and exploiting it. Here is there information market website: https://fantasyscotus.lexpredict.com/. Here is their algorithm: http://arxiv.org/abs/1407.6333.
From a securities law standpoint, I can't help but wonder when predictive trading on court decisions begins to cross the "outside trading" line. No, the information isn't nonpublic -- the information is public, but only accessible through an enormous amount of computing power. Bud Fox following a corporate raider around all day and making very informed guesses as to his next target is one thing, but following every CEO around with invisible drones is another. At some point, does technology make information gathering cross the line? I don't have an answer for this, but I know that Larry Ribstein and Bruce Kobayashi hinted at the positive aspects of this in "Outsider Trading as Incentive Device," which responded to Ian Ayres and Steven Choi's "Internalizing Outsider Trading" and the concern that the ability to trade in similar ways would lead to excessive search costs. (None of the authors contemplated a scenario in which technology makes information that for all practical purposes was nonpublic and uses it for trading purposes.) I look forward to hearing more.
It's an interesting mix of law professors and business professors, empirical projects, and the opposite. And bitcoin! Ranked by most downloads since being filed in the last 60 days.
|1||1,822||Hedge Funds: A Dynamic Industry in Transition
Mila Getmansky, Peter A. Lee and Andrew W. Lo
University of Massachusetts at Amherst - Eugene M. Isenberg School of Management - Department of Finance, AlphaSimplex Group, LLC and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management
Date posted to database: 29 Jul 2015
Last Revised: 29 Jul 2015
Hilary J. Allen
Suffolk University Law School
Date posted to database: 17 Aug 2015
Last Revised: 17 Aug 2015
|3||141||Law on the Market? Evaluating the Securities Market Impact of Supreme Court Decisions
Daniel Martin Katz, Michael James Bommarito, Tyler Soellinger and James Ming Chen
Illinois Tech - Chicago Kent College of Law, Bommarito Consulting, LLC, Michigan State University - College of Law and Michigan State University - College of Law
Date posted to database: 24 Aug 2015
Last Revised: 24 Aug 2015
|4||137||Opportunism as a Managerial Trait: Predicting Insider Trading Profits and Misconduct
Usman Ali and David A. Hirshleifer
MIG Capital and University of California, Irvine - Paul Merage School of Business
Date posted to database: 24 Jul 2015
Last Revised: 25 Jul 2015
|5||94||Towards Sovereign Equity
Stephen Park and Tim R. Samples
University of Connecticut - School of Business and University of Georgia - Terry College of Business
Date posted to database: 15 Jul 2015
Last Revised: 13 Aug 2015
|6||81||Strategic News Bundling and Privacy Breach Disclosures
University of Chicago - Department of Economics
Date posted to database: 15 Aug 2015
Last Revised: 15 Aug 2015
|7||80||Risk, Uncertainty, and 'Super-Risk'
Jose Luis Bermudez and Michael S. Pardo
Texas A&M University (TAMU) - Department of Philosophy and University of Alabama School of Law
Date posted to database: 28 Jun 2015
Last Revised: 28 Jun 2015
|8||80||How Corporate Governance Is Made: The Case of the Golden Leash
Matthew D. Cain, Jill E. Fisch, Sean J. Griffith and Steven Davidoff Solomon
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, University of Pennsylvania Law School - Institute for Law and Economics, Fordham University School of Law and University of California, Berkeley - School of Law
Date posted to database: 24 Jul 2015
Last Revised: 10 Aug 2015
|9||80||The Unsophisticated Sophisticated: Old Age and the Accredited Investors Definition
Tao Guo, Michael S. Finke and Chris Browning
Texas Tech University, Texas Tech University and Texas Tech University
Date posted to database: 25 Jul 2015
Last Revised: 25 Jul 2015
|10||77||Regulating Equity Crowdfunding in India - A Response to SEBI's Consultation Paper
Arjya B. Majumdar
Jindal Global Law School
Date posted to database: 26 Jun 2015
Last Revised: 3 Jul 2015
After stepping away to enjoy the pleasures of a summer virus, courtesy of my local one-year-old, I’m back for one last post to finish out my guest-blogging here, which I hope has been edifying or thought-provoking or at least mildly amusing for some readers. (Any and all thoughts, about my posts here or about To the Edge, would be greatly appreciated: pwallach at brookings.edu). For this last post, I want to return to the theme of “So Now What?”—this time not in the sense of policy prescriptions, but for the way we think about the law and how it relates to the legitimacy of crisis actions.
What I was driving at in my second AIG post, and what I explain in a number of contexts in the book, is that when Treasury and Fed officials adopt the role of financial crisis responders, they are unlikely to be subject to our stereotypical notion of the rule of law that centers on judges as the key enforcers of statutory and constitutional restraint. In this sense, I am in agreement with Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule’s The Executive Unbound—though I reject their further inference that law itself becomes nothing more than a distraction for the nostalgic or naive, for reasons I’ve explained.
I like to think of this as a realist turn of thought: when we think about what the law means in practice, we ought to look at the evidence of what it does rather than starting with any hard and fast interpretive rules. But, like other uses of legal realism, this one is likely to generate backlash. Some of that will come from steadfast practitioners of legal dogmatics, who resent the heresy. But since I have no hopes of ever impressing the Senate Judiciary Committee, that doesn’t worry me much.
But ordinary people have their own reverence for the idea that our government and its instrumentalities are strictly creatures of law (see the fascinating Law’s Quandary, by Steven D. Smith). Their offense at deviation from this norm (perhaps rallied and organized by the professional formalists) is a far more troubling affair. Since the people’s judgment of the legitimacy of government’s actions is the ultimate determinant of legitimacy, that broader impression of lawlessness matters a great deal; indeed, it hangs like a cloud over future crisis responses.
Posner and Vermuele’s view is that in crises, “legality and legitimacy diverge, and legitimacy prevails.” In other words, our government and polity together slide over into a non-legal regime in which direct political checks are the only ones that matter. My contention is that this transition is likely to be much messier than they let on, in part because political channels are ill-defined.
This is especially the case for the Fed. American anxieties about paper money are older than the republic, not to mention fears of the “creature from Jekyll Island.” So the Fed will always face resistance in legitimizing its operations, especially in crises, when it is most visible. The Fed’s imposing presence can be accepted most readily as a valid delegation from Congress—but most such logic relies on confidence in the force of legal bonds. In other words, the Fed must at least seem legally accountable. This is all the more true because of the Fed’s perceived independence from politics. If we think the Fed is rightly insulated from sudden political passions, then we cannot count on direct-to-the-people accountability to substitute for legality.
In short, the central bank must style itself as a more accountable organ of government in some way that convinces at least some portion of skeptics; that is what legitimacy seems to require today. Discussion with Peter Conti-Brown has partially convinced me of the anachronistic nature of this view—but expectations are not necessarily any less influential because they are anachronistic. The political environment of America in 2015 is very different from what it was a century ago, and the Fed’s weirdness has become an obstacle to legitimacy today more than it may have been in the past. Keep America weird…but realize that the American people probably don’t have much patience for weirdness in their key policymaking institutions, and act accordingly. In some ways, Peter’s proposals about normalizing the appointment of the regional Fed presidents (which I’ve shied away from to this point) fit well into this mold.
Well, I could ramble on, but perhaps that charming fever hasn’t left entirely yet and so I’m better off cutting my losses. My sincere thanks to the Conglomerate for providing me an outlet for thinking out loud over the past few weeks, and especially to David for inviting me and engaging with my book. Hope that everyone enjoys the waning days of our crisis-free summer, as long as they last…
In what I think is the first appellate decision on the issue, the Seventh Circuit held that timing problems prevented courts from entertaining collateral attacks on SEC administrative proceedings. It means that defendants have to raise their constitutional claims before the ALJs, and then the SEC itself on appeal, before they can get into court on appeal from that.
These timing issues have always looked really problematic for the plaintiffs. Essentially, they have been arguing that they think the SEC is about to open an administrative case against them, and that a court should tell the SEC that it can't do that, because administrative cases are unconstitutional. Usually, claiming that you think the government is about to do something isn't a very good reason to sue the government. Why not wait and see? You'll save the court's time and keep it from issuing an advisory opinion.
Put that way, it's not surprising that a CEO anticipating administrative proceedings against her was told to make her constitutional arguments to the agency, if the agency does, in fact, file papers against her, before trying to get the courts involved.
On the other hand, the case that has ginned up these suits, Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB, let a couple of accountants make their constitutional claims against PCAOB before it had lifted a finger against them. So the Seventh Circuit basically said "we don't think the Court meant to get rid of the doctrines of standing, finality, and exhaustion in that case," which is sort of hand waving, but probably true.
Anyway, it increases the likelihood that we will soon get an initial decision from an SEC ALJ ruling whether SEC ALJs are unconstitutional. I'm very much looking forward to that. You can find a gloss on the opinion here, and a link to the actual opinion at the end of the gloss.
The University of Richmond School of Law seeks to fill three entry-level tenure-track positions for the 2016-2017 academic year, including one in corporate/transactional law. Candidates should have outstanding academic credentials and show superb promise for top-notch scholarship and teaching. The University of Richmond, an equal opportunity employer, is committed to developing a diverse workforce and student body and to supporting an inclusive campus community. Applications from candidates who will contribute to these goals are strongly encouraged.
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I don't recall ever hearing of Ashley Madison prior to news of of the recent hack, but since that happened, it's hard to open a news site or social media site without seeing a story about the effects of this hack on clients of the company. The widespread interest in this story seems driven in large part by titillation, but also by schadenfreude at the unmasking of hypocrites.
Reactions to this story intrigue me in part because I am writing a paper called "True Loyalty," which talks about what we can learn about fiduciary law from common understandings of loyalty. It seems safe to say that we care about loyalty a lot, at least in this context. But the impulse to flag hypocrisy wherever it surfaces (especially when it is connected to people we already dislike) is troubling to me. This impulse is much in evidence in the political arena, but, as a matter of personal well being and public good, I think it is worth guarding against this impulse, choosing instead to be generous in the face of limited knowledge.
Thinking more specifically about the Ashley Madison situation ... in my volunteer church work, I counsel regularly with people who are having marital problems. More often than I would like, I find myself crying with people who have wronged their spouses or with the spouses who have been wronged. My sample is limited to those who are seeking help, but, in these cases, the person who has cheated wants desperately to take away the harm they have inflicted on their spouse. They are struggling to deal with the tragic disjunction between their principles and their practices. They want to make things right, but they seem to sense that they lack the ability to do that, which is why they are in my office. After you do this a few times, it's hard to see a story like Ashley Madison without feeling anything but sadness for everyone involved.
How would a generous, charitable person think about this Ashley Madison story? I have been pondering this a lot since reading a Facebook post by my friend and former colleague Steph Thai, who has given me permission to repost some of her thoughts on this. Steph is a great example of generousness of spirit, and she began her post with this introduction: "There's so much schadenfreude in the whole Ashley Madison hack. And I understand that; I reveled in that feeling for a long time as well. But I don't think it's good for me, so I've been totally stifling it." She then offers some reasons to be more generous in our assessment of those who are on the list of Ashley Madison clients, and I want to highlight one of those reasons:
"People make mistakes. People go through rough patches, and explore things, and sometimes it goes somewhere but sometimes it doesn't. And I think it should be okay to wrestle with one's own instincts. We all do. And we all do stuff that goes against even our own principles sometimes."
How much better the world would be if we could all remember this!
Come be my colleague! Athens is an amazing college town, the weather is warm, and the living is easy.
The University of Georgia School of Law is seeking applicants for up to two full-time tenure-track faculty positions to begin Fall Semester 2016. Curricular needs include Bankruptcy, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Federal Taxation, Intellectual Property, and Secured Transactions. We are actively considering both entry-level and lateral candidates.
Applicants should send their material to my colleague Andrea Dennis, email@example.com
Continuing from my previous post on curious and curiouser aspects of Judge Thomas Wheeler’s Court of Federal Claims opinion in Starr v. United States, here I ask: what is the bottom line of the opinion’s holding, and what impact could it have on the future conduct of the Federal Reserve?
Judge Wheeler’s clearest holding is the following: “Section 13(3) did not authorize the Federal Reserve Bank to acquire a borrower’s equity as consideration for the loan” (7). If you look past all of the overwrought verbiage, this is clear as day, and there is nothing so very strange about the legal reasoning behind it. As Wheeler notes, no statutory provision gives any Federal Reserve Bank clear authorization for taking an equity position in a private corporation. In his mind, once the Fed chose to make a loan to AIG, it “had to abide by the restrictions of Section 13(3), which did not include the steps it took in taking 79.9 percent equity and acquiring voting control to nationalize AIG” (53).
Wheeler never makes it clear what “restrictions” he means; none of the statutory language provides anything like a prohibition on taking equity, and one could surely argue that the Federal Reserve Banks should be given a great deal of latitude in determining what kind of collateral they might require to ensure that its loans “are indorsed or otherwise secured” to their satisfaction. But let’s put those concerns aside for now. (I have yet to encounter a really thorough exploration of this point, and would be grateful to any reader who knows of one.) What impact would the “Federal Reserve Banks can never take any equity, ever” holding have if it stands?
My guess is, very modest. Most obviously, from a practical point of view, the holding is toothless. After being told its actions were illegal, the Fed is asked to pay no damages. Sensibly so: Wheeler relies on the familiar (and convincing) logic that a diluted 20% share in something is worth more than 100% of nothing, which is what shareholders were almost certain to get if the company was forced to enter bankruptcy. However thundering the condemnation of the Fed’s action, this is the definition of a slap on the wrist. It signals to the Fed that as long as it finds a way to transgress judicial interpretations of its statutes so as not to deprive any private interests, it will be effectively immunized against any judgments. If the clearly angry Judge Wheeler can’t find a way to assess meaningful penalties against the Fed, there is little reason to expect some other judge to do more.
This exposes a genuine perplexity about the relationship between the judiciary and the Fed. It really is hard to figure out exactly how the Fed is supposed to be held to any set of legal limitations by the judiciary, even when the Fed has precious little statutory support for its actions. As America’s central bank and lender of last resort, the Fed is far more dexterous and able to package its interventions as voluntary than other parts of the government. Figuring out exactly what the rule of law is supposed to look like for this sort of creature is inherently difficult (perfunctory book link).
One fairly natural conclusion to draw is that the judiciary is all-but-irrelevant in policing the Fed, and perhaps that is not such a terrible place to wind up. I’m not sure the American people, or whatever portion of them is likely to tune into these sorts of things, is likely to agree, however. Which suggests that the importance of Wheeler’s opinion, if it comes to have any, is likely to be political rather than legal. The Fed is well aware of its legitimacy problem and thinking hard about how to burnish its reputation as an institution that admirably performed its prescribed role during the crisis. However limited its practical import, Wheeler’s opinion threatens that effort and thus it is little surprise that the Fed has appealed.
Although this ongoing litigation purports to be about the extent of the Fed’s legal powers and how the institution will be allowed to use them, then, it isn’t really. Officials desperately fending off a financial meltdown are attuned to deep political imperatives to minimize damage that trump legalistic concerns, especially when those concerns are priced at zero. Instead, the case is about who the Fed is accountable to. The judiciary has made its bid to stay in the picture with Judge Wheeler’s opinion; whether that sticks remains to be seen. Whether it does or doesn’t, there is a great need to think about how Fed accountability can work to legitimize the institution through other channels, a subject I will take up in my next and last post here.
I want to spend two posts on Judge Thomas Wheeler’s Court of Federal Claims opinion in Starr v. United States, better known as “the AIG Trial,” which was released in June and got only a brief mention from David here at the Conglomerate. In my second post, I will address the import (or lack thereof) of the opinion for future financial crisis decision-makers. In this post, though, I want to luxuriate in the strangeness of the opinion and some of its more ambitious conclusions, because it’s a real doozy.
First, there is the unusually partial tone of the introductory section. Judge Wheeler makes it very, very clear that he has bought into the narrative offered by Starr—that is, by Hank Greenberg and his lawyer, David Boies. In no uncertain terms, Wheeler declares: “The weight of the evidence demonstrates that the Government treated AIG much more harshly than other institutions in need of financial assistance” (6). And more: “The Government’s unduly harsh treatment of AIG in comparison to other institutions seemingly was misguided and had no legitimate purpose, even considering concerns about ‘moral hazard’” (7). Although he never uses the particular term, Wheeler has fully internalized the “backdoor bailout” critique of the government’s AIG rescue, judging it to be a clandestine rescue of AIG’s counterparties.
The appeal of this narrative has always been lost on me. As I note in To the Edge, all bailouts are for the benefit of the rescued institution’s counterparties. I’m not sure who exactly was supposed to be kept in the dark about the motive of insulating AIG’s many important counterparties from the liquidity-starved insurance giant’s chaotic failure, and so I’m not sure why “backdoor” has such bite for so many critics. But never mind! Here I just want to note how extraordinary it is for a judge to have so completely absorbed the rhetoric of the government’s critics, rejecting the idea that the government’s perspective has any legitimacy at all.
The next remarkable thing about Wheeler’s opinion is how willing he is to prioritize “effective” reasoning over formal legal reasoning, which manifests itself in a few ways. First, there is his repeated and deliberate use the “n” word: nationalization. In his judgment, AIG was nationalized, full stop. Never mind that this is a term without any precise legal meaning, or that AIG remained a publicly traded company throughout, or that a private board of directors and chief executive retained formal control. For Wheeler, this was so much show without meaning; in fact, everyone knew that officials within the government were calling the shots. So, too, AIG’s board of directors’ decision to take the Fed’s loan terms is to be regarded as a formality emptied of its meaning by the power dynamics of the circumstances. He literally says: “AIG was at the government’s mercy” (8). In the findings of fact section, he includes the following: “On September 22, 2008, AIG’s Dr. Jacob Frenkel stated to a colleague, Oakley Johnson, ‘the [G]overnment stole at gunpoint 80 percent of the company’” (26). Finally, in dismissing the importance of the government’s AIG Trust (which actually held the shares), Wheeler explicitly denounces “a classic elevation of form over substance” (62).
Readers, I am not terribly well versed in trial court opinions in corporate law cases, and so I would be glad to be corrected by those with more experience. But my reaction is: Wow. As far as legal opinions go, this is unfamiliar territory for me.
(Incidentally, Wheeler’s willingness to forego formalist reasoning as to AIG’s corporate form is not at all mirrored when he comes to consider the nature of the Fed’s powers, which he attempts to discern from explicit language in the Federal Reserve Act. This leads him to deny the Fed’s power to take equity—a point I will return to in my next post.)
Some other points seem like they have much broader implications. First, in staking out a sympathetic position with regards to AIG’s troubles in September 2008, Wheeler says the following:
Many market participants such as AIG also “found it difficult to derive fair market values for their securities based on market transactions.” Accordingly, AIG was forced to post collateral to its counterparties that “way exceeded any reasonable estimate of the actual risk of nonpayment on the CDS contracts” and this circumstance further strained AIG’s liquidity. (16, citations omitted)
If I’m reading that right, he is saying that AIG’s counterparties acted inequitably by forcing the company to honor the literal terms of its contracts; by implication, their use of market prices to value securities was “unfair” and this unfairness is somehow worth the court’s cognizance. If you follow out that logic, it takes you to some very strange places, especially in the context of financial crises.
Second, Wheeler’s finding of jurisdiction relies on a rather surprising reading of the Federal Reserve Act. He finds:
Starr is entitled to sue for the return of its money or property because it is an intended beneficiary under the Federal Reserve Act. … The Court declines to read Section 13(3) in a way that limits its benefits to only the governmental side of the financial system, and not to the individual businesses, corporations, partnerships or investors that comprise the entire financial system. Such a reading would allow the Federal Reserve Board to impose any conditions it desired on a Section 13(3) loan and avoid any judicial complaint of its unauthorized acts. (53-54, citations omitted)
This is something vaguely akin to taxpayer standing to challenge Federal Reserve loan-making. That is…unexpected, as I always thought that if there was any well-established judicial principle about the Fed, it was that judges should strenuously avoid second-guessing the terms of the Fed’s loans. I wonder whether the Federal Circuit will shortly revisit this thinking.
Finally, Wheeler makes a bold analogy made between the Fed’s driving a hard bargain with AIG and a 1960 case, Suwanee S.S. Co. v. United States, which featured a Maritime Administrator demanding a payment of $20,000 to the Treasury before he would grant permission for the international sale of two ships. In that case, the government argued that since it had complete discretion as to whether to grant the permission, it was allowed to make that permission conditional on a payment. The Court of Claims sensibly rejected this logic in the clearest terms: “officials have no authority to add to their function of determining the compatibility of the application with the public interest, the supererogatory function of picking up a few dollars for the public treasury” (57).
With his predecessors’ example in mind, Judge Wheeler sees the same dynamic at work in the Fed’s interaction with AIG: government officials going beyond what their statutes clearly authorize to extract resources for the government in exchange for the discharge of their discretionary duties. Not bribery, since the Treasury benefits, but a disallowed form of extortion nevertheless.
The problem with this thinking in the context of the Fed ought to be obvious, but Wheeler never addresses it. Namely: that a central bank is not like other instrumentalities of government, and that it might indeed have some bank-like qualities that make the matter of recovering on its loans more than just “supererogatory,” but quite mandatory and indeed central to its core functioning. But to say that Judge Wheeler does not seem terribly concerned about ensuring that the Fed has the ability to determine the shape of its own operations is perhaps to repeat myself.
None of which is to say that Judge Wheeler seems entirely off-base as he rejects the manner of the Fed’s engagement with AIG. In the next post, on to the core of his opinion and what it will mean for the Fed’s future.
My friend and law school classmate Henry Olsen has written a provocative article about two proposals by Republican presidential candidates (Walker and Rubio) to replace Obamacare. As Henry observes, "The key challenge ... has always been what to do once the monster is killed." And the answer to that question depends on why you dislike Obamacare in the first place. Here is Henry again:
The more libertarian branches of conservatism often emphasize the cost of covering tens of millions of people and the alleged dependence on government Obamacare would create. If cost and dependence are the problems, then the solution cannot be government subsidized universal coverage even if that coverage is provided by a competitive, private insurance market.
The Reagan wing of the conservative movement, however, is worried more about the way that Obamacare places the federal government in charge of virtually every aspect of the health care system than it is about providing financial assistance to people in need. This view places the human needs first and the cost and "dependence" questions second, just as Ronald Reagan did as both Governor and President.
I don't have deep thoughts about our health care system, though my concerns about Obamacare have mainly been of the latter variety. (Of course, placing the federal government in charge also elicits concerns about costs, so the two sets of concerns are not mutually exclusive.)
As a non-expert on health care, I wonder if we might someday have a private insurance market (presumably government subsidized) that is separate from employment? The current system seems (anecdotally) like a significant drag on employee mobility and entrepreneurship. I see people talking about how the healthcare system needs entrepreneurship, but it seems to me that entrepreneurship needs a new healthcare system. Is anyone talking about that possibility?
Sigh. Let's recap the very disappointing summer blockbuster movie season. The best movie by far was Inside Out, with Marvel offerings (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man) having respectable showings and moving the Marvel Cinematic Universe story forward. After that, Jurassic World was enjoyable, and a few other movies seem to have good showings, but I haven't seen (that Mission Impossible movie). However, many movies had great build-ups but extremely poor showings (Minions, Fantastic Four reboot that we just said no to). But I don't think any movie had as much going for it with such poor execution as Pixels.
The insatiable appetite that today's parents have for '80s nostalgia has given rise to some pretty great movies that both kids and parents have enjoyed: Wreck-It Ralph, The LEGO Movie). The trailer for Pixels seemed to suggest that this movie would succeed in the same ways. The set-up: In 1982, a time capsule made up of video arcade games and other '80s memorabilia was set into space. Now, inhabitants of another planet have found this time capsule and -- this is fuzzy -- believe that the games are an invitation to actual battle. So, the space aliens have created weapons that appear as old arcade games: Centipede, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, etc. The inhabitants of Earth have to catch on and fight back somehow or be annihilated. The only people that can save Earth are the video game champions of yesteryear.
That sounds good, actually. And the effects that are shown on the trailer look really cool. And the parts of the movie showing the arcade battles are actually really cool. But that part of the movie is about 15%. The remaining 85% is pure, unadulterated drivel. So much that you want Congress to pass a law saying that Adam Sandler should not be allowed to make movies anymore. Or, at least with Kevin James. Or, at least if the movie isn't animated and about a vampire.
The screenplay adds in some horrible content and worse dialogue. The video game champions are now an overaged "geek squad" employee, a prison inmate, a living-in-Grandma's basement-type conspiracy theorist, and the President. Yes, the President. Add in a recently divorced weapons designer/scientist Colonel in the armed forces who happens to be gorgeous and you have the makings of some truly horrible scenes. Oh, and Q*Bert, who did better work in Wreck-It Ralph.
How bad was it? The seven year-old asked to leave. He lives on an appetite of horrible kids' television, but even he realized that this movie crossed all the borders of watchability. My husband really wanted to leave. We stayed, and we are dumber for it.
UBC's law school is looking this year at the entry/associate level, and I understand that business law and finance are priorities. We all know that Vancouver's a paradise, and that the university sits on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. The application details are here.
In this post I want to turn to David’s thoughts about the policy recommendations with which To the Edge concludes. These come in two parts: a critique of the recommendation to establish a financial crisis emergency fund, and then a rather broader expression of skepticism about the whole game of making policy recommendations at all. I’ll take these in turn.
First, David says that the idea of a financial crisis emergency fund “seems disconnected with the project of discerning how governments can obtain legitimacy.” I suppose that is a natural first impression, and even one that I’ve sought to heighten with some provocative language: I say that what we need is a slush fund, though an accountable one. Since most people think of “slush fund” as a wholly pejorative phrase, especially with regards to legitimacy, the suggestion is meant to be a little jarring, and all the more so since “accountable slush fund” seems to most people like an oxymoron. So what am I hoping to accomplish with this suggestion, and what exactly would it entail?
To my mind, there were two leading causes why officials did so badly at legitimating the responses to the crisis. Probably most important is what I discussed in my previous post here: legitimation was just not a priority, or even a consciously pursued objective, in many cases. As Timothy Geithner’s book made clear, what thinking about legitimacy there was often took the form of, “If you solve it, it will come,” meaning that legitimacy should just take care of itself if policymakers focus on and succeed at crisis mitigation.
But next in line was that officials found they had a need for obfuscation as they availed themselves of legally dubious methods of crisis response. This is clearest in the case of the rescue of the money market mutual funds in the wake of Lehman’s demise, effected through a pledge of the Exchange Stabilization Fund (ESF). I’ve laid out the details of that maneuver in blog form elsewhere. Here I’ll stick to the bare bones: Treasury felt it needed to act so quickly that it had no time for Congress, was obliged to make a square peg fit into a round hole to do so, had great success in that maneuver in spite of its legal awkwardness, but nevertheless managed to seriously offend the sensibilities of Congress, which specifically legislated a proscription of future uses of the trick as a part of TARP.
My contention is that, under the current legal status quo, the Treasury will nevertheless have to repeat this maneuver in spirit during some future financial crisis. The guarantee program backed by the ESF turned out to be a terrific, nearly cost-free success in 2008, minimizing any potential backlash. But in a future crisis a quick action, taken by contorting the law while pretending that nothing untoward is going on, might be followed by actual losses, and the resulting brouhaha over whether crisis responders should be treated as law-breakers would be very costly in terms of legitimacy.
All of this is perfectly foreseeable, and so we ought to be able to plan for it. That’s where the Financial Crisis Emergency Fund comes in. (If you capitalize it, it starts to seem kind of real.) We ought not to require the Treasury Secretary to twist the law when he decides taking action to fight a crisis requires immediate action. Instead, we ought to make some limited pot of money explicitly available for that purpose, so that he may declare an emergency and act openly, with full public understanding of what he is doing.
By no means should that money be “no strings attached”; indeed, one of the appeals of planning is that we could attach a number of conditions to discipline the use of this money, as we find it difficult to do with less clearly spelled out, as-yet unidentified alternatives relying on legal manipulation. To ensure accountability, I suggest: “instant and comprehensive reporting, fast-track procedures for Congress to stop any outflows of money it found inappropriate, and even streamlined procedures for fining or impeaching a Secretary found to have misused the fund. In addition, time limits could be attached to restrict usage to the early, chaotic period, and of course there would be an upper dollar limit based on how much money was in the fund. Once committed, presumably it would take another act of Congress to replenish the funds.”
In short, the idea seeks to enhance legitimacy by winning a victory for realism, legal and political. Because we understand that when we fail to make provision for scrambling, it must happen in a legally underhanded way that may impair legitimacy, we should choose to plan. Doing so can facilitate public scrutiny of official actions in a way that should bolster legitimacy, which is crucial in the low-trust environment we now inhabit.
I also make some more boring suggestions in the book: more investment in clear decision-making protocols and record-keeping practices that preserve the rationales behind important choices, serious efforts to educate the public and congressional back-benchers about the nature of the responses, and the creation of special oversight bodies dedicated to ensuring the integrity of crisis response programs.
This brings me to David’s second point, which he makes in a sufficiently distinctive way to merit quoting:
One does not want to be a nihilist, but sometimes I wonder why we need to solve the problems of administration posed by a great financial crisis. Are solutions even possible? Is it interesting to, say, call for more congressional involvement next time, or more routinized accountability mechanisms? It may be that learning is possible only if it [is] accompanied with a course for future action.
Well, listen, maybe one does want to be a nihilist sometimes. When you have suggestions about how the government should make its practices more sensible, but lack flashy or grass-rootsy hooks to make those ideas cut through the noise, having a cultivated sense of resignation from the get-go may be only healthy. But for some of these relatively dull prescriptions, one isn’t hoping to inspire a movement; one is hoping that the people occupying key bureaucratic positions in the next crisis might quietly absorb some lessons that could inform them. Here’s hoping that’s you, reader.
Next time: on to the amazing (and continuing!) saga of AIG.
Here are the basic facts of State v. Rasabout from the majority opinion of the Utah Supreme Court, which was issued today:
Andy Rasabout is a member of the street gang known as the Tiny Oriental Posse. On November 1, 2007, Mr. Rasabout, riding shotgun in a Honda Civic, fired twelve shots from a Glock 9 mm semiautomatic pistol at a house and a car parked in front. Lee Tran, whom Mr. Rasabout knew to be a rival in the Original Laotian Gangsters, owned the car and was inside the house at the time. But Mr. Tran was not the only person in danger. Two young girls and their mother were asleep upstairs. Several others were playing cards in the basement. And one man was standing in the carport, enjoying the crisp morning air and a cigarette.
Rasabout was convicted of 12 counts of "unlawful discharge of a firearm." But is each shot a separate "discharge"? Or should the 12 shots together be considered one "discharge"? For more insight on those questions, read below the fold.
I'm enjoying Philip's guest blogging with us. I think I particularly like this part of his last post:
If it sounds condescending to suggest that the government barely even thought about legitimacy issues during the last crisis, perhaps it is fitting that I end with an obligatory presentation of Wallach’s Law, which is that everything is more amateurish than you think, even after accounting for Wallach’s Law. Everything: financial crisis responding and post-response analysis are no exceptions.
At the end of my review of his book, I said:
one of the reasons I like thinking about the financial crisis, and like reading books like Wallach’s about it, is because it was an enormous almost-disaster that was averted for thousands of different, interlocking reasons. The government’s response to it was both wise, unreflective, tremendously unfair, and highly successful, and a million other things as well.
We may never sort out what exactly happened, and we'll certainly never know whether it was the best possible approach, or three removed from best, or 17, or whatever. Given so many inputs, what can we say about the legal output?
I think we can say a few things. First, that the law mattered, and provided constraints, even when it shouldn't have or was just used as an excuse (ahem, Lehman Bros.). Second, one of the ways it mattered is because it cabined the government's thinking of precisely how it could get creative. We can't save a bank through X, so let's push through a merger to save it that way. We may never want the government too cabined in the middle of a crisis, but there is room to impose constraints afterwards, too. So if you're inclined, for whatever reason, to look at the world through "law only" glasses, I think you can gain some useful perspectives on what happened during that hectic period six years ago.
Though, as we found out today, they're still litigating it all!