I also believe that there is more to the story than the original concept of financial looting, namely that of collaboration from politicians, which creates a type of perpetual motion of looting that I call Circular Looting.
The concept of looting in economics is rather simple:
This particular mortgage makes for a good example of what has been happening over the last few years. As the strawberry picker signed up for the mortgage, there was a string of people who were given large fees, going all the way back to Wall Street itself.
These fees, and the overall profit from all the investments related to the sub prime market, are what constitutes the “loot” in the looting cycle that has been going on over the last decade or so.
Here’s what most likely happened in the Vallejo example:
- the bank received mortgage origination fees
- the bank sold the mortgage to an investment bank (like Lehman Brothers), and got a fee
- Lehman Brothers packaged the strawberry picker’s mortgage with others, created a “mortgage-backed security” and sold that to Wall Street, and received a fee
- Wall Street traders bought and sold the securities, and received large commissions
Obviously, everybody in the chain knew that a strawberry picker was not going to be able to pay this mortgage, but everyone was making money in the meantime, so the looting was a win-win situation, for a period of time.
This describes how looting is a good idea for corporations that engage in it, while being ready to run for the hills when everything comes falling down. Now we’ll move on to the political connection.
There are not that many companies in the United States that can depend on being bailed out by the government, but the exception to the rule is the financial sector. In other words, large banks, investment banks and any other financial institutions that are deemed to be important enough for the local or national economy, can usually count on being bailed out.
Bailouts don’t only concern the institutions that are considered “too big to fail”, which is evidenced by Åkerlöf and Romer’s report, “Looting”, which describes the looting behavior of smaller, local banks in Texas.
The financial industry in the United States donates enormous amounts of money to virtually all politicians in Congress and those running for President. This has been going on for so many years that it is now a Washington institution.
This behavior obviously creates a dependency on the part of politicians on the financial industry, without which they would not be able to become elected.
This, along with the promise of a bailout when the financial institutions are about to go under, creates an utterly symbiotic relationship between politicians and the financial industry.
This symbiotic relationship is described by the following four stages of the Circular Looting that you can see in the model at the beginning of the text:
1. Donations from the financial industry to every imaginable political campaign.
2. The donations force politicians to create and perpetuate a business friendly climate with low taxes, virtually no financial regulation or oversight, and the absence of labor rights.
3. In such a “business friendly” climate, corporations are free to engage in whatever kind of business they desire, because they are left alone, and because of extremely low taxes, they can reap all the rewards instantly. Looting is created on a massive scale.
4. There is only so much looting that can go on until the market is depleted. Eventually the bubble has to pop, either because of inflated values, or because of exposed fraud. It is then that the politicians come back and help their friends in the financial industry with bailouts.
If looting is to be successful in the end, individuals who are working for the financial institutions must be sure to not invest in their own companies too much, and cash bonuses are essential to the scheme.
What AIG recently did when executives were given bonuses after the bailout had already happened is remarkable. Even after the looting was done, the executives were able to extract bonuses directly from taxpayer money. This must surely be unprecedented prior to this crisis.
Looting, bailouts and political donations make American society eerily reminiscent of the feudal society of Europe during the middle ages, where most people were serfs, and everything and everyone was controlled by the aristocracy.
Moreover, I advise that the winner-takes-all voting system should be destroyed.