Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Henry Paulson's Hiring Practices

There are clearly several ways to express some things. For instance, doubts about the ability of the people recruited to execute Paulson's bailout plan to successfully do so. One might wonder whether anyone could do it, but the three views I've come across and would like to contrast all opine mainly about whether the people who have been appointed are likely to succeed.

First style: synthetic, clear and readable, common-sensical argument by Kenneth Rogoff, professor of economics at Harvard and former chief economist of the World Bank, in
In mid-August, I had the temerity to predict that risks had come home to roost, and that a large US investment bank might soon fail or be forced into a highly distressed merger. Little did I imagine that today there would be no free-standing investment bank left on Wall Street. Indeed, after years of attracting many of the world’s best and brightest into ultra-high-paying jobs, collapsing investment banks are now throwing them out left and right. One such victim, a former student, called me the other day and asked: “What am I supposed to do now, get a real job?”

This brings us back to the US treasury’s plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to unclog the subprime mortgage market. The idea is that the US government will serve as buyer of last resort for the junk debt that the private sector has not been able to price. Who, exactly, does the treasury plan to employ to figure all this out? Why, unemployed investment bankers, of course!

Let’s ponder this. Investment bankers have been losing their cushy jobs because they could not figure out any convincing way to price distressed mortgage debt. Otherwise, their firms would have been able to tap the trillions of dollars now sitting on the sidelines, held by sovereign wealth funds, private equity groups, hedge funds, and others. Now, working for the taxpayer, these same investment bankers will suddenly come up with the magic pricing formula that has eluded them until now.

Second style: cartoon parable. The example is Wiley's Non Sequitur from 13 to 18 October 2008. Link to day one here, click on "next" above the cartoon to see the next scene.

Third: "serious journalism," New York Times style: The Guys From ‘Government Sachs’. I think it was a pretty interesting article, although a little tedious and too full of names (couldn't fewer Goldman Sachs alumni have been involved?). My main complaint is that it rambles, drowns the reader in facts and expert opinion citations, and doesn't convince; perhaps the two authors couldn't agree on its organization.

What do you think?

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