Sheila Bair’s new book

I put this one in the jaw hits floor category, and for more than one reason.  (Sheila ran the FDIC during the financial crisis and her book is titled Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself).

The book is remarkably full of information and substantive narrative.  Few books pack in so much and I mean this in a very positive way.  I learned something on virtually every page, even after having read many of the other crisis books.

Yet her running claim that she had a plan to end the bailouts, or abolish “Too Big To Fail” is absurd.  (Though most of these people do.)  She should be presenting only the more modest argument that it would have been better to distribute more losses on creditors, which indeed she did advocate.  Her narrative overreaches by a long mile.

Second, to a remarkable degree, she sees everyone else in the process as filled with fault and herself as never at fault.  She has zero qualms about ceaselessly flinging mud out the rear view mirror, and does so for even the tiniest and pettiest of squabbles, including ones the readers never knew or cared about.  Geithner by the way is villain number one but no one else on the scene matches her virtue and common sense and scarcely a page flies by when we are allowed to forget this.

She is beloved of sentences such as “Maybe the boys didn’t want Sheila Bair playing in their sandbox.”  Who am I to say she is wrong?  Reading this book now I know why!

This is arguably the most _______ book I  have read, ever, and I am still looking for the right word to fill in that blank.  It is in any case stunning.

From yesterday’s media, here is Sheila celebrating the departure of Vikram Pandit from Citibank.  I do support full free speech rights, but still I feel queasy when former top-ranking government officials — who have been privy to lots of inside knowledge — speak out on such specific matters and in such a negative way on particular individuals and firms, as opposed to making broader policy recommendations.  What are now the incentives for CEOs negotiating with the FDIC or for being honest with regulators the next time around?  Former government leaders and regulators should not be settling personal scores in public to such an extent.  Do you see many other accomplished statespeople doing the same?

This tract is a performance of terror, in good and bad ways.  Few books will teach you more about the politics of bureaucracy and regulation, though not exactly as the author intends.


Pandit not Seth.

A poet would have done better.

Sheila Bair majored in Philosophy. Close?

Thanks, fixed...

" What are now the incentives for CEOs negotiating with the FDIC or for being honest with regulators the next time around?" --> Oh come *on*! Seriously? I consider this a welcome change over the existing default viz., working for said CEO...

I say, there will be *more* incentives for CEOs to be honest, if they know it all be disclosed in 5-10 years future

From the media reports, I can think of $260 million reasons that Vikram Pandit had to work with the FDIC and Treasury in 2008-09, that being his income since 2009 to the present as CEO according to those reports. That Pandit was able to save his job then was perhaps a huge gift from the U.S. Government. So putting up with nasty comments from Sheila Bair is apparently just a cost of doing business.

I guess there are two ways to look at this since in late 2008 and early 2009, Citi was barely trading above $1.00 a share and now is trading at $12.05, Pandit, with a big assistance from Treasury, has done all right by Citi shareholders. Of course if you were one of the poor goofs who bought the stock in 2006 and 2007 when it was around $35.00 a share, you are still going to be waiting a long time to get back to even.

Here are $300+ million more reasons:

Joint Statement by Treasury, Federal Reserve and the FDIC on Citigroup

U.S. government entered into an agreement with Citigroup to provide a package of guarantees, liquidity access and capital.
Treasury and FDIC provide protection against the possibility of unusually large losses on an asset pool of approximately $306 billion of loans and securities backed by residential and commercial real estate and other such assets, which will remain on Citigroup's balance sheet. Citigroup will issue preferred shares to the Treasury and FDIC. If necessary, the FR ready to backstop residual risk in the asset pool through a non-recourse loan.
Treasury will invest $20 billion in Citigroup from the Troubled Asset Relief Program in exchange for preferred stock with an 8% dividend to the Treasury. Citigroup will comply with enhanced executive compensation restrictions and implement the FDIC's mortgage modification program.
With these transactions, the U.S. government is taking the actions necessary to strengthen the financial system and protect U.S. taxpayers and the U.S. economy.
We will continue to use all of our resources to preserve the strength of our banking institutions and promote the process of repair and recovery and to manage risks. The following principles guide our efforts:
• We will work to support a healthy resumption of credit flows to households and businesses.
• We will exercise prudent stewardship of taxpayer resources.
• We will carefully circumscribe the involvement of government in the financial sector.
• We will bolster the efforts of financial institutions to attract private capital.

CEO's are negotiating with the FRB, OCC and Treasury. FDIC merely insures the FDIC-insured deposits, the aforementioned agencies regulate/supervise the TBTF "banks."

"Sheila Bair and her colleagues at the FDIC are the only regulatory agency in Washington that is still trying to obey the law. The Fed and OCC, on the other hand, have bought into the Paulson/Geithner/Bernanke scheme to subsidize the large zombie banks — and do so without authority from the Congress."

"The FDIC Chairman was doing her job while the rest of these spineless weasels, these duplicitous, traitorous villains were selling out the taxpayer to subsidize the bond holders of the large banks — the clients of PIMCO, BlackRock and the rest of the Buy Side. Following Paulson’s lead, Dugan and Geithner are simply representing their clients and future employers on the Sell Side."

-- Chris Whalen, Institutional Risk Analytics (6/14/09)

It's hard to view this as anything more then a hit piece. You haven't provided textual evidence that she does indeed claim "she had a plan to end the bailouts", and that that claim is an overreach.

You also cast aspersions about her character that come down to "come on, these other people can't be as bad as she says they are and, even if they were, she shouldn't tell us anyway".

To me it's all corroborative. Bair has been the most sympathetic while at the same time most unsympathetic (save the Indian from Massachussets, who is only faux sympathetic) character. She refuses to play ball and then complains when they don't play ball with her. Not that playing ball or refusing to play ball are the right strategies.

>>come on, these other people can’t be as bad as she says they are

Not quite. The key point is that we should be very afraid when a high-ranking official is convinced of her righteousness and that those she is regulating are inherently wrong (or even worse, evil). It doesn't matter whether she is right or wrong in that assessment, that is the mindset of a tyrant and people such as that should not be in office.

Her office is not about her. It's about broader policy.

"The key point is that we should be very afraid when a high-ranking official is convinced of her righteousness and that those she is regulating are inherently wrong (or even worse, evil)."
What evidence do you have that Blair was convinced that the people she was regulating were "inherently" wrong or evil? She came to conclusions regarding the actions of the people she regulated. Correctly or incorrectly, this is a regulator's job and is very different than making a judgement of "inherent" evil.

Sheila does claim that. I've heard her speak at private events. She was interesting because of her inside perspective, but utterly naive and arrogant about the ability of regulators (well the FDIC, the OCC et al couldn't be trusted!) to prevent shenanigans.

By "shenanigans" do you refer to people tryin to save the banks to prevent what Ben Bernanke allegedly fears could cause another depression?

I sincerely don't know, was Sheila Bair screaming on the way up to the Too-Big-To-Fail cliffside? Personally, I tend to be on her side, I don't buy the armageddon view that rests on the idea that the regulators did everything just-so to prevent the end of the world, but I recognize that a lot of other people sincerely believe otherwise.

'She should be presenting only the more modest argument that it would have been better to distribute more losses on creditors, which indeed she did advocate. Her narrative overreaches by a long mile.'

Or just maybe, as the head of the FDIC, she had access to banking numbers which would lead her to conclude that if her various policy proposals had been followed, major American banks would have collapsed.

It's quite possible - we all assume that the same cautious game being played by various European regulators is actually based on a greater awareness of just how fragile the global system is.

Bair may have been outclassed in the political arena (note that Geithner is still Treasury Secretary, while rarely hearing anything about his tenure recently - after all, we are following his and Bernanke's policies, not Bair's) - but there is no reason to doubt either her access to data or her math skills.

But then, if I recall, a certain group of people have always referred to her as being somewhat shrill - almost as if they were dismissing her in an attempt to dismiss her policy proposals (see Elizabeth Warren for a similar process, even when the details are distinct in each case, the criticism often has a certain meta aspect to it, as if the problem is not particularly the policy or math, but the sort of person it is coming from).

Neil Barofsky gets the same treatment as Bair and Warren--maybe even worse. So at least some sausages are welcome to this particular party.

Warren is a complete fraud. She should not be mentioned with Bair. I don't know about Barofsky.

Absolutely true - but two out of three is not exactly a contra-indication. I think it is fair to say that anyone suggesting that things are worse than seem will be viciously attacked, using whatever means seems best, at least when they have power. Ignoring, or shunning in another context, seems to be the most common response in general.

I still find it interesting that more women (Tanta at calculated risk comes to mind, not to mention Yves Smith) seemed more publicly aware of not only what was going on, but were fully capable of explaining how it was happening. Also revealing was how easily they were dismissed before the crash's reality became inescapable.

Also, the use of the "shrill" argument doesn't necessarily imply sexism. Tanta vs. Yves Smith is a good example. Both produced useful work, but surely even the most biased can spot a difference in tone and objectivity. Tanta was simply a superior educator.

Barofsky was, and is, shrill as you can see from his pronouncements that AIG would collapse at cost the USG tens of billions. Barofsky and Bair are heroes in their own minds. Some may agree or disagree, but their internal shrines are fully developed.

Barofsky's book "Bailout", which you can get for 'free' at Piratebay, is also cut from this "righteous martyr" style, but like TC says about Blair's book, "Bailout" is good fast reading (on my second day and about done with it) for what it says about Washington politics "reading in-between the lines". Basically, DC is like the worse aspects of American high school. Case in point: you get one Senator who is your ally to pick up the phone, shout at Geithner (who is also a villain in Barofsky's book), and get a government official to reverse policy. It's a bunch of cliques fighting for control of the machinery of government. Barofsky also commits some economic howlers by stating for example no taxpayer waste occurred by paying some outrageous prices for Blackberry's because it was sold from one government office to another--but that's wrong because at some point somebody is buying these Blackberry's at I bet inflated non-market prices from an official Beltway Bandit government supplier.

1. It is nice to see Libertarians with a fine respect for copyright and the rule of law adopting Proudhon's belief that since all property is theft one can go to a pirate site and take someone recent book. (I would modify those laws and give far shorter copyright protection, but still buy the books. But then I am not a Libertarian.)

2. Everywhere is like high school. That is just how we humans interact in this vale of tears. Read Aristotle's "Politics" and Thuycides "The Peloponesian War. In the later, note how all the Koolz kids wanted to be Alcibiades friend (and how he sold them all down the river.)

3. Finally, back to the subject of the blog, I doubt Vikram Pandit even remembers Sheilia Bair's name as he chortle's his way to the bank (although I doubt he will bank at Citi).

Ray Lopez is a libertarian? How does a non-libettarian make the assumption that everyone else here is one?

The term "libertarian" originally referred to Proudhon & co.

"But then, if I recall, a certain group of people have always referred to her as being somewhat shrill "

"Shrill?" I thought Paul Krugman had the patent on "shrill."

I think that public servants have an obligation to share their insights and tell the truth once they leave their posts, especially in this case, where the institution received billions of bailout dollars. Transparency helps.

Anyway, Bair is not disclosing any secret insider stuff about Vikram and Citi--it is all publicly info. This is just her opinion about the problems in Citi's leadership and the direction they are headed now. If executives regularly exercise their right to project their distaste for individuals in government leadership, can't those people at least share their opinions once they leave government?

public servants have an obligation to [...] tell the truth once they leave their posts

Tricky. Only once they leave?

But it is incredibly unself-aware. She blocks Citi's moves, blocks their CEO, claims it is looking out for the FDIC (a bureau whose business is subsidizing banks) and then with a touch of narcissistic projective identification "I'm sure Pandit still blames me" because she helped make sure Wells Fargo got bigger by Wachovia instead of Citi.

'(a bureau whose business is subsidizing banks)'

Wrong - but that would be the response of my brother, who worked at the FDIC.

Not correct would be my answer - the FDIC is a bank financed insurance fund that relies on the full credit and faith of the U.S. Government to performs its function (and it seemingly has the distinction, much like the SEC apparently, to pay its employees according to a private sector scale). That it has been misused is another question entirely - Bair was in favor of closing many more banks than were actually shut down, with the requirement of more funds to do it well. At least if public statements in intra-departmental battles are to be believed.

Sounds like a bank subsidy...

Or a public good.

She probably ended up doing Citi a favor.

She either did them a favor or screwed them over...or did them a favor by screwing them over.

Oh, it was definitely an unintentional favor.

Bought it. Thanks, it had been sitting I my Amazon cart. I bought Confidence Men a long time ago and haven't been able to bring myself to read it...sounds like I should read these two in tandem.

"This is arguably the most _______ book I  have read, ever, and I am still looking for the right word to fill in that blank.  It is in any case stunning."

Guess you're not as widely read as I thought. Thanks for not filling in the blank though. It takes many voices and perspectives to tell a story accurately...I doubt anyone was going to mistake this book as the gospel on the crisis.

Wait, what is so complicated about the living will ideas? You could even make a market out of it. The jury is still out on whether the problem was the bailouts versus the ad hoc government approach to them and considering the timeline the latter has got to be the null hypothesis.

as “Maybe the boys didn’t want Sheila Bair playing in their sandbox.”

I like how she talks like an NBA player cutting a rap reckitt in the off-season.

Oh, and I don't think this is a gender's more about the different policy views. Bair was a loud, dissenting voice (for a lot of reasons) through out. I may not agree with her analysis or her style, but I would be shocked if she did not have a positive impact (maybe less directly than she liked) on the process. A lot of the traits she's getting tarred for are pretty common at her level, though expressed differently.

Ahem...why do women usually think it's a gender issue.

It's like she thinks she's the only person who thinks Geithner is Satan.

I haven't read the book, but I doubt she thinks of it as a gender issue either. It just sounds like it here in the sound bites. Replace 'boys' with 'cool kids' or 'the establishment' and you get the same effect. I would have used different language (or highlighted different language here). Still getting to the inner circle is not trivial and dissent from the inside is different than dissent from the outside.

What 8th graders and people who can tank the world economy don't understand is that the cool kids don't always know their position is secure.

It's kind of comforting to know that people with all the power they could ever hope for feel the same way I did in middle school.

Hello, insider-outside dynamics? There are fancier labels to put on it than I did, but yes, I think everyone understands the frustration of being ignored (or at least feeling that way). And yes, government is made up of people, just like other institutions (middle school, Wall Street banks, playgrounds, etc.) Oh, and no one has all the power they could ever hope for (a good thing).

Having read only part of this book, I find her just as sick, weird and self-serving as Dimon, Pandit os anyone else's gave she wants to dance.

You have to be a narcissist to reach the highest levels of finance and government.

Or the arts or the media or corporate boardrooms or the military or...

In two of the other books (one is Paulson's), Bair comes off poorly. She is portrayed as self-serving and egotistical. I don't think this book does much to diminish those accounts. That said, many of her views are probably valid.

I had similar thoughts. You nailed it right. I have yet to read the book but reading about it and listening her on the tube I find it amazng that anyone in her position would throw so much mud at everyone just because she could. Now what, should we wait for the books by Geithner, Pandit and others she trashed?

"I haven't read it, but????? I've noticed how most of the commenters are men, so you don't even need to read it to criticise? Makes me believe more and more. The moment I learned that Geithner had not paid taxes TWICE and was going to be treas. Sec, I knew the "little people" were screwed. GO Sheila and Elizabeth. Enough of the males-only crooks

> She is beloved of sentences [...]
Groups of sentences can't have lovers last time I checked. You wanted to say "She is enamored of sentences [...]".

smitten with?

enthralled by?

No, Sheila Bair called and said, and I quote "No, I really do f_ _ _ the sh_ _ out of sentences."

Come on, Andrew,' "flip the ship" makes even less sense than the original sentence.

It is fascinating how some people go low (really low) verbally to get their digs in and other people reach for archaic, convoluted phrasings. Different wrapping paper, same disappointing present.

As my mother used to say to piss me off, "It's funny, laugh."

Ha. Are you English?

I believe the audience gets to decide what's funny. Yes, I did laugh but I was also as consolation I amused myself by comparing your quip to the original sentences. Amazing how such different words can have the same effect.

BTW my mom always said there were more clever ways to get digs in than with the f-bomb. (Though even she might have picked it over "is beloved of.")

" I do support full free speech rights, but still I feel queasy when former top-ranking government officials — who have been privy to lots of inside knowledge — speak out on such specific matters and in such a negative way on particular individuals and firms, as opposed to making broader policy recommendations. "

Or as opposed to joining a Wall Street firm and making a lot of bucks using the knowledge and connections they gained as a federal employee? Or as opposed to becoming a lobbyist? Somehow speaking one's mind seems the least of the problem caused by former federal employees...


As a taxpayer and citizen, I want to hear all the inside dirt on this disaster.

Is Tyler trying to be satirical in this post? Because otherwise, I'm pretty weirded out by him wanting the history of 2008 covered up.

Tyler lauded the fact that the book reveals lots of inside information on the crisis, but he expressed concern about what he saw as personal attacks. Can you not see a difference between the two?

Actually, no.

Personal attacks in print on rich bastards who left me and mine with bill are all the satisfaction I will probably ever get out of 2008, since it appears increasingly hopeless that any of these guys will ever go to jail.

What's the matter with a few personal attacks? Are they going throw off their putting strokes so badly they won't be able to break 90 when they helicopter over to Liberty National G.C. for a quick 18?

The problem is if they were nicer to her personally there'd be no book, so how much can we trust the book?

Not a surprise at all coming from a woman like her.

You mean an incredibly impressive woman who lets a couple psychological bottlenecks hamstring her?

All she needs to do is go smoke some doobs with Hillary and the Renos and learn how to jettison her soul.

That was a great review. I was never going to buy it, for a host of reasons, but was very impressed by this review.

I skim read it at an airport, and share your views. I am glad, though, that she brought out the issues on her side; the Fed and Treasury, which were dealing with a big crisis, understandably had a different position: they were trying to lay risk on her trust fund (and ultimately solvent banks which would have to pay higher fees later to recapitalize her fund).

I did like the inside the government discussion--but, it was all her perspective. She also, obviously, felt slighted by being left out of many things that were not directly within her agencies responsibility, even though she might have had to bear the risk.

As for too big to fail, if you do a network failure analysis, as some have (see Modeled Behaviour at you have to pragmatically admit that some banks are systematic. Now, that may mean tighter regulation; it might mean higher capital ratios; it might mean limiting off book transactions; etc.

One item that was in her perview, that did not receive much discussion, is bank mergers. Many of the banks that are too big to fail are the result of agencies facilitating their acquisitions of failed banks. I would like to see more effort at breaking up failed banks, favoring smaller banks making the acquisitions of the pieces, so that we grow the middle banks, and not the large banks, with federal acquisition support.

"This is arguably the most _______ book I have read, ever, and I am still looking for the right word to fill in that blank. It is in any case stunning."


"narcissistic" would be my suggesting

should be "suggestion"

"inadvertently revelatory"

Hi qual. commentary here!
Warren is a complete fraud.
Having read only part of this book, I find her just as sick, weird and self-serving as Dimon, Pandit os anyone else’s gave she wants to dance.
Not quite down to ZH level though. Y'all need to do some work.

"What are now the incentives for CEOs negotiating with the FDIC or for being honest with regulators the next time around?"

How about enforcing the law and prosecuting them when honest with regulators? Really this narrative that we must continually grovel to CEOs by exempting them from the rule of law is growing tiresome.
There are different types of incentives and I fail to understand why the only incentives that should be applied to the financial elites our positive ones. This is certainly not the standard applied to other Americans. We put more people in prison per capita than any other developed nation based in part on the assumption that this discourages crime. Yet when it comes to Wall Street somehow the theory of deterrence doesn't apply. Indeed, according to our Galtian overlords we can't even criticize them because this would hurt their tender feelings and thus prevent them from being "job creators". Pandit is very lucky he isn't in prison for violating the internal controls certification provisions of Dodd -Frank. If he were that would provide other CEOS with quite a bit of incentive for "being honest with regulators the next time around?"

edit to my prior post. The first sentence should read:

How about enforcing the law and prosecuting them when they're NOT honest with regulators?

I've read this hundreds of tines over the past few years. Never by anyone naming names and specific crimes committed.

This is arguably the most ________ book I have read

useful gift-to-people-I-don't-like

how about "accurate" ???

While I agree that her pettiness and recriminations put the FDIC in a bad light, and many of her machinations were unfair - Tyler has some good examples and the WaMu case also comes to mind - I can't help but think that Spain could really have used a Sheila Bair.

I'd love to see a similar book by EU regulators/bureaucrats/commissioners/other unelected frauds. It seems they are slightly more self aware.

"Financial concepts are not that difficult if you have a little time to study them. The problems that drove the crisis... are really not that hard to understand. Sometimes I think people in the financial sector don't want you to understand the issues. "

"it was roasting hot in Merida, and I wore a sleeveless linen dress. I had underestimated the Mexicans' penchant for air-conditioning."

Sounds like "self-absorbed" might fit, though "narcissistic" was mentioned above and works, too.

"Former government leaders and regulators should not be settling personal scores in public to such an extent."

Why not? The public paid for the bailouts. We should at least learn all the dirt on the big shots who put this over on us.

The most obvious issue is that basically nobody has gone to jail for 2008. They used to put financiers like Milken and Keating in jail after big fiascos, but now, I guess according to Tyler, we aren't even supposed to discuss in public their foibles.

By the way, doesn't the fact that numerous arranged marriages went off fairly well and only when Lame and Brothers was allowed to explode did it all go pear-shaped serve as the null hypothesis that government wind-down (bankruptcy) policy is what screwed the pooch?

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