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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks during a discussion hosted by The Economic Club of Washington, Monday, Dec. 7, 2009, in Washington. (AP)

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks during a discussion hosted by The Economic Club of Washington, Monday, Dec. 7, 2009, in Washington. (AP)

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The country’s top economists — Fed chief Ben Bernanke included — met in Atlanta this week to look at where we stand.

Simon Johnson spoke. Here’s what he said:

We’ve probably got a recovery coming. 2010 could look good. But we haven’t fixed the underlying problems in our banking and finance systems. The country’s been taken prisoner by a Wall Street that rejects reform. And so we’re cruising for another crash. A bigger crash than ever.

And by the way, he says, Ben Bernanke should not be reappointed.

This hour, On Point: a conversation with bigfoot economist Simon Johnson.

Guest:

Joining us from Washington is Simon Johnson, professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, he’s now a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He co-founded the widely read blog The Baseline Scenario, where you can read his latest commentary. His forthcoming book is “13 Bankers.”

More links:

Some pieces that got us thinking about this segment include:

The BusinessWeek cover story, “Not So Radical Reform”; Chrystia Freeland’s column in The Financial Times, “Global super-rich no longer look so benign”; Bob Herbert’s New York Times column, “An Uneasy Feeling”; and Simon Johnson’s own piece at the Times’ “Economix” blog, “Lessons Learned But Not Applied.”  It’s also worth looking back at Johnson’s bracing essay in The Atlantic last spring, “The Quiet Coup,” in which he argued that “recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform.” We spoke to him when that piece was just out.

Johnson opposes the re-confirmation of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. The LA Times editorial board disagrees – they want Bernanke reappointed. Of course,  Time magazine named him “Person of the Year.”

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  • Sam

    The Peterson Institute for International Economics chairman is the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and former United States Secretary of Commerce, Peter G. Peterson.

    IN 2008 Peter Peterson established The Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The Peterson Foundation addresses fiscal sustainability issues related to federal deficits, entitlement programs and tax policies.

    Get ready NPR audience for your dose of gutting Social Security and Medicare in the name of the Federal deficit.

  • J. Robert Dumouchel

    I would like to hear Mr. Johnson’s view on whether “supply side economics” contributed to the current economic situation. Lower taxes on unearned income did not produce the economic stimulus predicted in 2001. Rather, it created more wealth for the wealthy. Together with the conservative movement to stifle unions and the refusal to increase the minimum wage, average worker income stagnated while CEO pay has become a multiple of hundreds of times over average worker pay vs. pre-Reaganomics. Now, we expect a consumer-driven economy to make a comeback. How realistic is it that?

  • Rick

    Economics seem to subscribe to one or more of the following fundamentally flawed ideas. These myths often explain economic crises, especially the current one.
    1. Economies can grow infinitely
    2. Wealth can violate the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy (it can be created and destroyed)
    3. Economies are not chaotic
    4. Buying and selling money for a monetary profit is sustainable
    5. Economies are open systems

  • Brad

    How can there be an economic turnaround, when housing, which brought us into this recession, is still out of whack with the fundamentals of the market. The government subsidies, tax breaks, and artificially low interest rates are keeping home prices artificially high. Once all of these incentives reset or go away, those homeowners that bought in the past 2 years, will become the new underwater homeowners brining us into a double dip.

    On top of this, I hope On Point will cover the Federal Reserve, and enlighten people to the fact that this is not a government organization, but rather a private bank which runs the countries economic policies.

  • Sam

    Did you hear what he said?

    The banks doubled our debt with this crisis.

    Doubled it.

    You are paying for their losses.

    But you will soon see what that means.

    All of that money went to pay banks and is not available for Social Security or Medicare or education or alternative energy.

  • Jacob Neu

    A good friend of mine is a former mortgage broker. A couple days ago she was telling my wife and I that the housing market is due for another drop because right now, the banks are holding onto thousands of foreclosed homes, and they have not marked the homes down to market on their books; instead they have listed them on their books at the original inflated price. When the housing market picks up, the Fed will raise the rates and the banks will have to mark the houses to market, these will show as losses, and the banks will look extremely weak again. Can Mr. Johnson comment on this?

  • JC

    Mr. Johnson states that public debt has reached 80% of GDP. Other well-respected economists say it is closer to 90%. Also, I wouold like to hear him address private debt in the U.S., which many have stated is now in the neighbourhood of 400% of GDP.

    I don’t think, based on present policies, that we will even be around as a viable country to see the next crises.

  • http://www.gordonstone.com Jennifer Stone

    Hi Tom,

    I would like to know when the public credit ratings will come into line with the giant corporations that we used tax dollars to bail out.

    We are self-employed people who have been making our bills until the last quarter of 2009. We are now being denied a refinance by Fannie Mae who we just gave billions to…why is there not a restructuring of the credit ratings to help us get back on track?

    Thanks

  • Steve T

    I hope I word this Correctly.
    If they had given the money to those who were losing or about to lose there homes instead of giving it to the Banks. The Banks would have gotten their money. Would that have stopped this? Or make it worse?

  • John

    Please explain “TOO BIG TO FAIL” If you break up 10 TOO BIG TO FAIL banks into 100 banks, but then those 100 smaller banks do the same thing that the 10 TOO BIG TO FAIL did, then you now have 100 small failed banks. How is that different from 10 large failed banks?

  • http://ravenatyournextevent.com Greg L

    Simon Johnson is one of the most credible, sensible voices out there, yet his insights continue to be ignored.

    I wonder if his concept of oligarchy encapsulates Big Banking’s belief that a “plutonomy” is what we now have and that it’s a good thing for the economy overall.

  • Sam

    Steve

    That would have been Socialism.

    They keep calling giving money to the banks Socialism but it was Fascism.

    The banks got our money. We didn’t get their money.

  • Joe

    John, very strange logic if you can call it that. How would the 100 smaller banks do exactly what the ten bigger banks did? They couldn’t because they would be smaller. So, instead of having 100 small failed banks you have zero failed banks.

    This is the first economist I have heard since the crisis saying what I have been saying for over a year.

    Too big to fail = Monopolies

    We need to apply current anti-monopoly laws to institutions percieved to be too big to fail.

  • Jim Burnard

    Gee. Listener “Sam”. Thanks for the insightful comment.
    It explains a lot. I often wondered how great educational
    Institutions could [miss the obvious] and lead this country down an economic path
    Which seemed like the “Emperor’s New Clothes” for instance:
    1. How a country could export working wage jobs and
    Have a sustainable economy.
    2. Encourage loans [subprime] that could not [in economic terms]
    Be paid back.
    3. Encourage monopolies and oligopolies which have been known to be detrimental,
    Wether in banking, retailing, and food production etc. etc.
    4. As a nation we have moved away from REAL WEALTH CREATION to an artificial wealth creation.
    The list goes on and on.
    Where were our GREAT institutions?

  • Sam

    The banks are giving the taxpayer all of their bad mortgages through Fannie and Freddie.

    Once again the taxpayers get the debt and the banks are good to earn profits which they will keep.

  • Sam Kopper

    Is not THE fundamental economic problem that the core foundation of 21st Century capitalism is the demand of excessive profit in the short term? It seems to me when I was young (I’m 63), American business was content with 10% profit margins. Today, I hear corporate leaders driving for much much higher profits because they are serving Wall Street rather than their actual business customers. Industries such as health care should be limited to a percent or two profit. Most other industries should have profit caps.

    Is not the fundamental governance problem that we now have a modern Feudal system whereby the top one half of one percent net-worth people have bought and now own our government; and their vassals include the political parties and media classes.

    Is Bruce Judson not correct that this is all setting up a revolution?

  • Joe

    Good point Steve, the most effective program in the whole bailout was the paltry $4 billion of the “Cash for Clunkers” program. The big banks have made billions more from this whole “crisis” than the value of all of the troubled assets owned by banks. The last thing the banks want is: credit relief for homeowners and just getting the money that’s owed them out of endangered mortgages.

  • JaneM

    My dream team to replace Laurence Summers and Timothy Geithner: Simon Johnson and Elizabeth Warren. Thank you Simon, I just love listening to you although I don’t always like what you say. It is clear, though, that more people should be listening to you.

  • Matthew

    I have a question: who is responsible for approving company mergers? It seems that every time we hear about big companies deciding to merge (in any industry—think Comcast/NBC Universal, XM/Sirius) the merger is approved. Who is it that’s ALLOWING these companies to become to big to fail? This, to me, is the biggest evidence that we have a misguided economic ideology.

  • Alicia

    I don’t like putting all of our retirement and college money via 401ks or IRAs is good idea; it gives the financial markets too much control, so, where to save? We are currently out of the market.

  • gabrielle

    Simon is AWESOME!!!!! keep having him on!!!!!!

  • Joe

    Part of the original Tea Party in Boston was the realization by the colonists that they were working for “The Man”, in that case The East India Company. I wonder if Rick Santelli would support a new Tea Party to fight the power brokers on Wall Street. Are you listening Santelli?

  • Delia

    Our economy cannot recover as long as it is controlled by the financial oligarchy. Our entire system of government is at risk at risk as well, as they control our political system. Note how it became impossible to pass regulations controlling the financial system and protecting consumers from usurious interest rates and exorbitant fees and complex mortgage instruments that defy understanding even by the initiated, but provide huge profits to the financial sector. The entire financial system is nothing more than a huge casino banked by the US and the global economy. It exists simply to support the multi-billionaires that exploit the unregulated, “free market” system. When the economy collapses, they walk away with their billions, as the rest of the world suffers. There is no hope for us unless our political system is revised to provide a level playing field so that wealthy businesses and corporations can no longer influence or control our system. Otherwise, we will become a “third world” nation with two tier system of wealthy corrupt government and business leaders at the top and a population at the bottom that is sustained only to level needed by the exploitees at the top.

  • Sam

    Joe

    Were are not just working for “The Man” any more, “The Man” owns our whole lives.

  • Todd

    Well, I’m not disappointed. Considering Mr. Johnson’s credentials, I didn’t expect to hear him offer any viable solutions to America’s economic woes; he’s inextricably connected to the very same economic cabals that are at the root of causing the problem. One can always count on On Point to give voice to “bait & switch” guests who routinely sit at the round tables of the various groups that are shilling for the New World Order and its agenda.

  • Jenny

    I like the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ comments.

    The most obvious one is that the Senate and Congress is not working for us, the people, they are working for their seat which is controlled by money. (It is a complete joke the way they handle the healthcare reform bill. They put everything else above people’s real helath. ) The political system is not capable of correcting the mess we have. We, the people let all this happen at the first place because we didn’t choose the right person to work for us in the Congress and Senate by either not voting or not voting for the right person.

  • Jonathan Rich

    This was a really EXCELLENT program, even the questions from listeners were intelligent. Thank you! I’ll be sending others to listen to it, which is not a habit of mine.

  • Natalie

    Wall Street is just making money off our own poor decision making; namely, living with too much debt, wanting to have it all, saving too little, etc. You can’t always blame everything on somebody else.

  • Alex

    “Part of the original Tea Party in Boston was the realization by the colonists that they were working for “The Man”, in that case The East India Company.”

    The original tea parties defended the Colonies’ business interests of that time. Dumping British tea in the Colonies threatened the interests of the smugglers of Dutch tea here.

    The present day tea parties are also meant to protect certain business interests of today. Nothing new there and I do not buy the argument that it is a grass roots movement organized because people are concerned about the well being of the nation.

  • pw

    Yes indeed, the more Simon Johnson the better!

    Another remedy is to listen to yet more economists — less well known to many of us — who predicted the crash. James Galbraith has been speaking and writing about them, urging that they be given no less attention than that given to the blowhards (not talking about Simon Johnson, of course!) who are given a lot of media time but who didn’t — did not — see what was coming. Nonetheless, these talking heads are invited over and over again to predict what will happen next.

    Galbraith quotes Paul Krugman: “Of course, there were exceptions to these trends: a few economists challenged the assumption of rational behavior, questioned the belief that financial markets can be trusted and pointed to the long history of financial crises that had devastating economic consequences. But they were swimming against the tide, unable to make much headway against a pervasive and, in retrospect, foolish complacency.”

    Galbraith’s full article: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/HE/TA09EconomistGalbraith.pdf

  • S. Yu

    “Please explain “TOO BIG TO FAIL” If you break up 10 TOO BIG TO FAIL banks into 100 banks, but then those 100 smaller banks do the same thing that the 10 TOO BIG TO FAIL did, then you now have 100 small failed banks. How is that different from 10 large failed banks?”

    The difference being that smaller banks will not be able to leverage large risks without practicing collusion. In essence, no one (or several) large entities would control such a significant (nearly all) amount of risks in this country. Having 1000 smaller banks, with, say, 100 of them failing (because the risks aren’t as great) is a lot better than 8 large banks with 2 of them failing.

    I can’t even believe you asked this question. Are you just trolling?

  • http://dispolemic.blogspot.com Stephen Alrich Marshall

    Gleaning by the Rich.

    Discussions of economics I hear on On Point and public radio generally circle round and round and never hit on the fundamental issue: Carrying Capacity, and the question: Which is more important, The right of some to get richer, or the right of the many to do more than survive?

    Although creativity and human energy may be infinite, and wealth can be accumulated ad-perpetuum, the Earth is not, and possesses only so much capacity to generate the material goods (water, housing, food) that people need. As the number of us goes up, the share available declines. So the inherent limitations of a finite planet sets long-term limits that no amount of economic jerry-mandering can alter.

    Meanwhile, as we give priority to the right to get rich, the automatic drive of employers to limit labor costs and the vaunted productivity increases which have been seen during the computer revolution funnels more wealth to the already wealthy, while the number of jobs declines (“jobless recovery”), the incomes of available jobs decline in their value, and making a decent living becomes ever more difficult or impossible. Even survival is often impossible, when the right to accumulate wealth is more important than the right to a decent living.

    Then, as the wealth and privilege of the few accumulates, they look for further investments to hold the value, so they buy rights to those things the rest of us need – land, water, energy, commodities. As more is held, and more is demanded to carry accumulated wealth, the share available for consumption declines, and the corporations which control the resources, in the name of those investors, demand ever more exhorbitant profits, squeezing those who just want to make a living. So wealth, and the problem of how to store it, causes short-term false-scarcities.

    These false scarcities and the priority placed on the right to get rich* combine in a toxic brew, causing hatred, alienation and violence, as witnessed in the ever deepeing crises over terrorism, and the anger of many Americans toward the banking system since the collapse of 2008. People who are poor, starving and feeling under assault are necessarily attracted to ideologies which vow to destroy that political and economic order, or are inclined to raid neighboring tribes. Americans who feel their lifestyle at risk, today, are turning to “tea parties” or violent anarchist groups such as white supremisists.

    People who hold wealth are equally terrified by the disorder brewing in the world economy, as their survival, in a manner familiar to them, is at risk.

    We are all victims of the priority given to the right to get rich because it breeds chaos. When wealth is distributed more evenly, such that people who have the least, have enough, and such that people with wealth are seen as sharing it out of concern for the well being of others, not only are the disenfranchised then invested in the current order, but the current order itself becomes more stable, survival is more predictable, and people are satisfied with less, thus easing the burden on Earth’s resources.

    This is the population-resource paradox discussed by demographers: as people get what they need and feel more secure in their living, they do not increase the number of children they have. Tragically, it is only poor people in insecure, unpredictable economies who really want many children. (Ecologists are familiar with this as the “r” strategy.) Hence, it is economic development, spurred by wealth shared by those who possess it, which holds the most promise to limit war and terror as carrying capacity bears down on us. It is when we give priority to the right to a decent living that we are all – even rich people – most safe, secure, and have the best chances for happiness.

    *The “right to get rich” as we practice it is often attributed to Adam Smith’s imperative to create wealth, but this imperative according to Adam Smith is located in a moral system which levels the distribution of wealth. The “right to get rich” as practiced today is the form of capitalist enterprise that Adam Smith despised and sought to limit. Real wealth is created when the goods and services that people need are produced and distributed, so when profits are accumulated and hoarded, some people are richer, while the society may be poorer.

  • Barbara Moore

    This program was powerful, thanks. Please tell how to find politicians who are trying to address this issue so I can write to them and what can the Obama administration be urged to do now?

  • david sherman

    thank you very much for having simon johnson on your show. i appreciate his angle.

    given that the derivatives market is now worth 100′s of trillions a year, grossly dwarfing actual goods and services created worldwide, and that this market is managed by fewer and fewer people, what roll do people have in our modern economy? given that fewer and fewer people are needed to generate the lion’s share of the world’s economic “activity,” what are the rest of us to do?

    thanks!

    dave

  • Brett

    Replace Bernanke, Summers, and Geitner with Johnson, Krugman, and Warren!

  • Brett

    I support the reintroduction of the red wolf into various sites around the US national forests.

  • Brett

    Wait…that doesn’t go here!

  • twenty-niner

    Obama wasted a critical opportunity to reform the banking system, which he could’ve accomplished last Spring. But once again, he’s proven to be much more of a talker than a doer, and certainly no TR.

    Dick Durbin had the guts to call it like it is last April when he said of Congress, “Banks, frankly own the place.” I guess they own the White House as well.

  • Nathan

    Durbin would know; lots of lobbyists in his immediate family.

  • Todd

    “Wait…that doesn’t go here!”
    Posted by Brett

    @ Brett:
    LOL…Not to worry! Red wolves, banking/finance wolves; neither have done, or will do, anything to fix the economy! Perhaps we should explore introducing BOTH into the wild together! ;)

  • Stacked

    TOO BIG TO FAIL is another way of saying MONOPOLY! Why is there no TRUST BUSTING going on? WHY?

  • http://freeourfreemarkets.org Sbanicki

    Mr. Johnson is right on.

    What does the American auto industry, the health care industry, wall street firms and the banking industry all have in common; other than they were all on the brink of failure?

    These are industries where the production side of the industry is no longer a free market with many producers competing head-to head to earn the business of consumers, or customers, of the industry. Instead each of these industries are controlled by a relatively small number of very large corporations that have transformed these markets into oligopolies.

    Adam Smith when he discussed “rational self interest” and competitive markets in his book Wealth of Nations, envisioned many consumers buying goods and services from many producers with everyone looking out for their self-interest. By keeping markets “free”, producers pursue their rational self-interest and this best meets the needs of the consumers and the citizens of our country, who are also looking out for their self-interest. Under this system, what is in the producers self interest is to provide the best product possible to the consumer, while striving to be a low cost producer for their niche.

    This consolidation of markets began in the late 1960′s early 1970′s in the auto industry when it was transformed from a free market to an industry that was controlled by three giant corporations and one union. As this transformation was occurring the auto company’s and auto union’s self-interest became separated from what the consumer wanted and/or needed. Competition between the companies broke down and this gave an opening for foreign competition to enter our markets and the beginning of the end of the American auto industry as we knew it.

    Other industries saw what was happening in the auto industry and saw that government was not objecting so naturally they followed the same path with little concern on any ones part that we were losing our free market system to a more centralized market system of oligopolies. As a result we now have major markets where the producing entities self-interest is not always in line with the self-interest of the consumer. What is in the self-interest of the entities in these industries is to keep the oligopoly alive. Thus the creation of special interests and lobbyists.

    These oligopolies have bought the protection of our representatives in Washington and state capitals. I am always baffled by the fact that corporations and unions cannot vote in this country, however they are allowed to buy votes with their contributions.

    We lost track of a key ingredient that Adam Smith identified as necessary in order for “rational self interest” to work. There must be many producers. In too many industries, the number of producers has shrunk and the ones remaining have gotten “too big to fail”. This is true in the auto industry, the banking industry, wall street, health care and will soon be true in the computer software industry.

    When discussing the health insurance industry proponents for this specific oligopoly site the fact that the bigger the insured pool, the lower insurance premiums can be. However, I submit that this “bigger pool savings” is more than offset by the fact that the rational self-interest of the companies is not totally aligned with the rational self interest of the insured. The insurance industries self-interest is to keep the oligopoly alive. The self-interest of the insured is to have as many insurance companies as possible clawing to get his business and thus ringing out all excessive cost, including unconscionable salaries for top executives, to earn the consumers business.

    The liberals are right that regulation is required and conservatives are right that a free market is the best way to meet the needs and wants of our citizens. The common ground is that regulation is essential to make our markets more free. We have too many industries where companies have too much power, their self interest is not aligned with the citizens of this country and they are too big to fail.

    It is time that our politicians breakaway from the shackles of oligopolies, special interests groups and lobbyists. Use antitrust legislation to bring back free markets.

    http://xrl.us/ToBigToFail

  • david

    In 1995, a wise economist predicted all this and he was laughed at. I listened to him and prepared. My advice to all is to, get out of debt, stay out of debt and save as much as you can and put it in a sound bank; for I am afraid the storm is not over yet.
    For all of you who might want to know what Big Brother is up to now, check out this website. My last paycheck seems to varify. http://biggovernment.com/2010/01/06/dems-tinker-with-withholding-tax-tables-for-2010/

  • did you mean

    … cite ….

  • Annie

    Let’s all get a good hate on for rich people so we can forget our mistakes.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/dgoncz Douglas (Dana) Goncz, CPS

    Tom, I heard you and Simon Johnson talking about corporations (banks) “too big to fail” and thought back to our Civil War and forward to our next war.

    We have corporations that are “too big to fail” because we granted corporations all powers of the natural human person (corpus) *plus* a power taken from us each and all in the end of the Civil War, by the Emancipation Proclamation: the power to buy and sell each other. We fought bitterly over that point in the Civil War and we decided as a Nation it’s morallly unacceptable. So one leveraged buyout after another, the corporations grow. *Of course* they’re “too big to fail”; they are obese to morbidity.

    Our next war in my opinion will be a over this one point. Someone will have to propose that corporations no longer be permitted to buy and sell each other. Only then will the growth and increasing instability subside.

    Our allies in this, surprisingly enough, are the Armies of low-wage service workers from South of our border. Hispanics have in their language the word “usted” for “you” and “ustedes” for “you-all”. They have an inherent and powerful tool for coping with the clutter of irresponsibility that comes when Congress asks the chairman of a corporation “Why did you do that?” and the chairman answers “I didn’t. We decided it in a meeting.”

    The next Amendement to our Constitution *mus* be an Emancipation Proclamation preventing further buying and selling of corporations while the waters settle. If we do not do this, our little boat will be tossed beyond belief while the waves continue to grow. Corporations must be freed from the temptation to grow by acquiring each other. We did it and we were better for it. They can do it, and they’ll be better for it.

    Go back to the Federalist No. 10 and read about the dangers of coalition described there, 300 years ago, if you don’t believe what I have written here.

    Best,

    Douglas (Dana)

  • http://suburbanbushbabe.blogspot.com/ Karen Mcintosh

    I like Simon Johnson’s distinction of utility banks versus casino banks. Banks are utilities just like telcos, oil, gas and nuclear, electric grids. Imagine if taxpayer dollars had shored up Ma Bell so it could stay in business! Ma Bell was broken up into Baby Bells to our benefit. Regulations should be enacted treat these banks like utilities. Our money is at least as valuable as electricity, phone/cable service, etc. Banks too big to fail is another term for extortion. Loved this show!

  • Brett

    @ Brett:
”‘LOL…Not to worry! Red wolves, banking/finance wolves; neither have done, or will do, anything to fix the economy! Perhaps we should explore introducing BOTH into the wild together! ‘” -Todd

    Now, Todd, doesn’t that further wrongfully malign the red wolf to compare them to the predators in the financial world? :-)

    …As far as wolves in the world of finance are concerned, their counterparts in the wild are infinitely less predatory; and, unlike the sheep in the animal kingdom, the sheep in the human world are as much a concern as the financial wolves!

  • Brett

    “‘My advice to all is to, get out of debt, stay out of debt and save as much as you can and put it in a sound bank…’” -david

    Well, at least we can all agree that this is pretty good advice!

  • http://www.onpointradio.org charles m mwangi

    thanks for having Simon Johnson; one hour is not enough,try two for he has alot to say on topics Washington is sweeping under the rugs that they dont want us to know.
    The other guest equally strong and informative whom you should have again is Greg Zuckerman to talk on his latest book on hedge fund managers like John Paulson and how they timed the market-albeit correctly. If these guys saw the collapse coming, am sure the Government knew for it did not happen overnight nor in a vacuum.
    NPR On Point, bravo

  • Janet

    You can’t trust socalists to run a good economy. Have we not learned anything from the fall of Eastern Europe?

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