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Shattering the Right vs. Left Prism Once Again: The Wall Street Journal Goes After Goldman and the Bank Bailout

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Yesterday's opinion section of the Wall Street Journal offered convincing proof that those who want a progressive financial policy and those who simply want to save capitalism are in agreement about the madness of the administration's Wall Street policies.

There, on the editorial page of the capitalist Bible, was a piece taking repeated shots at Wall Street darling Goldman Sachs. And, over on the opposite page, a two-fisted op-ed by former hedge-fund manager Andy Kessler in which he labels the government bailout of Wall Street "a dumb move" and "a bust."

I'm planning to shrink down today's Journal, laminate it, and hand it out anytime someone in the media starts analyzing the economy using the cobweb-covered, tried-and-untrue right vs. left framing.

You know that this way of looking at financial policy is dead and buried when Rupert Murdoch's pride and joy is publishing takes that I could happily have written myself.

Let's start with the editorial, "A Tale of Two Bailouts," which decries the fact that, thanks to the policies of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, Goldman "enjoys the best of both worlds: outsize profits for its traders and shareholders and a taxpayer backstop should anything go wrong."

The piece is spiked with disdainful references to "the Goldmans of the world" and "the likes of Goldman, which apparently needs no help printing money," and takes issue with the way "we changed when we stepped in to save certain banks in the name of saving the system." It also dubs Goldman "Goldie Mac," saying: "Goldman will surely deny that its risk taking is subsidized by the taxpayer -- but then so did Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, right up to the bitter end."

Compare that to the laudatory language and quotes used by AP business writer Stephen Bernard in his story yesterday on Goldman's "stunning" profit report. Bernard calls the company "the king of post-meltdown Wall Street" and repeatedly quotes a financial analyst who anoints Goldman as "the best of the best," "in a class by themselves," and "the golden child of the market."

The Journal's take -- "We like profits as much as the next capitalist. But when those profits are supported by government guarantees or insured deposits, taxpayers have a special interest in how the companies conduct their business" -- is actually more in keeping with that of Robert Reich, who says that "Goldman's resurgence should send shivers down the backs of every hardworking American who has lost a large chunk of retirement savings in this economic debacle, as well as the millions who have lost their jobs.... Goldman's high-risk business model hasn't changed one bit from what it was before the implosion of Wall Street."

Then there is Kessler's op-ed, which mirrors much of HuffPost's take on the serial missteps made by Obama's senior economic team.

"We took the easy way out," he writes, "and, with the help of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's loose 'stress tests,' swept banking problems under the carpet. We waved off mark-to-market accounting and juiced bank stock prices to help them recapitalize, but all those toxic mortgage assets on bank balance sheets are still there as anchors on lending."

Kessler also refuses to buy into the "'green shoots' psychology" that has spread through much of the media -- and rejects the all-too-frequent conflation of the Wall Street economy and the real economy: "By not restructuring banks, by not getting bad loans off bank balance sheets, by not standing up to the massive increases in government debt crowding out private capital, the Fed and Treasury are holding back real economic growth."

There is much in the Wall Street Journal that I don't agree with but, when it comes to the failure of the administration to address and fundamentally reform what Kessler calls "the structural problems that got us into trouble in the first place," we are of the same mind. There is no daylight between a progressive position focused on the paramount need to get the real economy going and one based purely on what makes free markets work.

The editorial goes so far as to suggest imposing a tax (yes, the Wall Street Journal is proposing a tax!), an FDIC-style bailout tax to be precise, "for those in the too-big-to-fail camp."

We've reached the point where the only people defending the administration's Wall Street policies are the people benefiting from them -- or their good friends, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers.

Around the Web

A Tale of Two Bailouts - WSJ.com

The Bernanke Market - WSJ.com

Robert Reich's Blog: Goldman's Back, and Why We Should Be Worried