Opinion

James Saft

Learning from Ken Feinberg

J Saft
Mar 25, 2010 12:33 UTC

Sometimes it’s what doesn’t happen that is most illuminating.

When Pay Czar Kenneth Feinberg first slashed executive compensation at U.S. firms that benefited most from a government bailout the cry was that this would hurt these weakened firms when they could least afford it, as the best and brightest would leave for better money elsewhere, where the free market still ruled.

Well, the door didn’t hit them on their way out, but mostly because they stayed rooted to their desk chairs.
Feinberg evaluated the compensation of 104 top executives at affected companies in 2009, reducing pay for most to levels far below financial industry norms and their own former earnings.

Yet here we are in 2010 and about 85 percent are still working for the same firms, still toiling for the kinds of wages that may well make them wish they’d gone into the law rather than finance. Remember all those articles in glossy magazines about how impossible it is to make it in New York City on $500,000 a year?

“The argument that we hear all the time; that if we don’t pay more this key official will leave, he will go to a foreign competitor,” Feinberg told CNBC television.

“I’ve always been dubious about that argument and I think the statistics bear out the fact that most officials stay at those companies.”

from The Great Debate:

Geithner’s hair of the dog plan for banks

J Saft
Feb 18, 2009 10:03 UTC

jimsaftcolumn-- James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. --

U.S. plans for a public-private fund to buy up toxic assets are likely to amount to a fig leaf with which to hide subsidies to failing banks.

It is also, inevitably, an entirely new subsidy to outside investors, who by definition will only participate if they get better terms than now available in what we formerly thought of as the free market.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner last week announced the plan, which will provide between $500 billion and $1 trillion of financing to private sector funds which will use the money to lever up their own capital and make offers for complex and doubtful securities now clogging balance sheets. Further details are to follow.

from Davos Notebook:

It’s never too late to blame Greenspan

Jan 29, 2009 09:55 UTC

Alan Greenspan hasn't been chairman of the Fed for three years, but his policy mistakes keep paying dividends in the form of blame at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos.

Polish Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski yesterday:

"This was the failure of one of the key institutions in the world." During the Greenspan era he said they continually met downturns and distress with easing and "eliminated fear."

Ken Rosen of Berkeley, who was writing about the housing bubble in 2005 or so, is in the same camp:

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