Neil Barofsky’s Bailout shows why banks have become bigger, now too big to jail

Happy festive season to all! I have had the privilege of reading Bailout by Neil Barofsky over the holiday and of course didn’t we all hang on to the news over the New Year period when the fiscal cliff was the big topic?  The next one will be the big one, the debt ceiling. Surely this will be when the IMF intervenes and brings in the Chicago Plan Revisited? These policies would stop banks creating money, avoid public and private debt and solve the debt problem forever. What a major leap forward that would be! The next few months will be huge.

Back to Neil Barofsky. The subtitle of his book tells heaps – An Inside Account of how Washington Abandoned Main Street while rescuing Wall Street. Barofsky was a young lawyer from New York appointed to be Special Inspector General of TARP, the fund that bailed out troubled banks, AIG (“We found the placement of the interests of the too-big-to-fail financial institution and their executives above those of the taxpayers funding their bailouts”) and auto manufacturing companies. It was supposed to help troubled home owners with underwater loans too. His job was to prevent fraud and protect the taxpayer.

This man is a very brave individual. Constantly warned by Washington insiders that he must be always thinking about his next job (with the implication he must go easy on the big banks), Barofsky goes right ahead and does his job without fear. Secretary of Treasury under Bush is headed by Hank Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs was obstructive and difficult, but when Obama appointed Tim Geithner, former President of the Reserve Bank of New York, he found himself ignored and was bundled out the door quickly on many occasions. Treasury was obstructive and he found he had to communicate with legislators and use the mediator before they took any notice of him. He said there was little change between the Paulson and Geithner regimes.

At the end of it all the banks are now bigger and more dangerous. Ultimately only a small fraction ($1.4 billion at the time he stepped down) of the $50 billion allocated to help homeowners was spent, while the fund expended to prop up the financial system – as Barofsky discloses – totalled $4.7 trillion.

After his two year grind in Washington Barofsky was offered a post at a university and is now using twitter to teach others online. I am delighted to say I have now made contact this way.

And of course we have had the HBSC being fined $1.9 billion for money laundering but they were too big to jail. As the New York Times editorialised on Dec 11

“It is a dark day for the rule of law. Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system. They also have not charged any top HSBC banker in the case, though it boggles the mind that a bank could launder money as HSBC did without anyone in a position of authority making culpable decisions.

Clearly, the government has bought into the notion that too big to fail is too big to jail”

Europeans should consult permaculturists not bankers

Every educated and concerned individual on the planet appears to be puzzling over the web of debt problem in Europe.  Many instinctively know that because of our interconectedness the austerity package in Greece and the riots in Rome will be coming to a city near them soon unless this dilemma is solved. The grotesque web of debt graphic published on the BBC News website at is authoritative and clear. It shows that Greece owes to France, US, UK, Germany, Portugal and Italy and does this for each country.

We first need to understand that bailout packages aren’t bailouts really  – they are just further loans. But anyone will know you can’t solve debt with more debt.  Sooner or later the crisis is going to come back and each round it gets worse. And it is rather like the poor having to borrow from loan sharks to pay their interest on their complicated hire-purchase obligations – the further they get into debt the more interest they pay.

How come so many owe so much to so many? Companies, governments and individuals have been borrowing across borders for years. Why couldn’t they rely on their own country instead?  Are there no boundaries between countries any more? Is capital to roam free across the globe in search of the best returns? Oh yes, in the current system it is. Borders mean little these days when it comes to capital flow.

So what to do? Put bankers and economists in to run Italy and Greece?

Einstein said you won’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it. I have just read an article by a permaculture teacher on energy flows between living organisms. Instead of inviting bankers to their conference to solve the Eurozone debt dilemma, European leaders should have invited permaculturists. They would have learnt that all living systems have semi-permeable borders to control the material and energy flowing in and out. If too much energy (money) flows in the system expands and implodes. If too much energy flows out the system winds down and collapses. This is the principle of reciprocity.

There are other principles but the only one I will touch on here is the idea of holarchies. This, in contrast to hierarchies, means that in Nature there are wholes within wholes within wholes. Each whole-part has its integrity and each is constantly in negotiation with other whole-parts in a dynamic dance to maintain system balance. You can read more about holarchies at  and about the principles of living systems  at

We will put aside the issue of the gigantic derivatives market for the moment.  Suffice to say Merkel and Sarkosy in their proposal for a financial transaction tax are on the right path.

Now if we apply the holarchical organisational structure to currencies, we need currencies for small areas, currencies for larger areas and currencies for the whole globe. In an ideal system (and private corporations are still I am afraid still in charge of the issuing and controlling a country’s money supply), to ensure there is always the right amount of money the public body issuing each currency will be in a constant state of negotiation with the others. It brings complexity and resilience to a system.

So all this talk of “leaving the Euro” or “joining the Euro” might have to be replaced by other thinking. If we were to imitate Nature we would have a holarchical system. We would have currencies within currencies within currencies. So the Euro would co-exist with the drachma and the mark and the franc. Now, that will take some thinking out, but it is Nature’s model and we are part of Nature aren’t we?

There are many other critical questions like the ridiculous and unfair system where the global currency is effectively still the US dollar and the as yet unquestioned usurious money creation system that allowed all this compounding interest to take place. But let’s leave that for another time.  Just get in the permaculturists!