Rubinomics?

A good friend of Research Edge is currently enrolled at Yale Law School.  This future Supreme Court clerk was kind enough to give us the heads up that former Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, was speaking at the Yale Law School yesterday.  While Keith briefly touched on Rubin's hour long lecture plus Q&A in the Early Look, we wanted to more broadly highlight some of his comments.

Rubin is clearly relevant in current investment discussion given his role in both working with and mentoring Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council Chairman Larry Summers.  Given the background that both of these men worked for Rubin for extended periods, there can be no doubt that Rubin has some influence, if not a great deal, over current events.  As a result, it is worth understanding just how the economic godfather, Robert Rubin, thinks.

Keith and I attended the presentation with two current students of Yale Law School.  No doubt I was the least intelligent (except for maybe Keith) of our group, with very likely the most partisan Republican views.   Interestingly, despite widely varying political beliefs among our four person Rubin lecture watching cohort, we all come to the same conclusion:  Rubin was radically underwhelming. Moreover, it was scary to think that he was at one point one of the most important economic policy makers in the world, who still has incredible influence today.

In lieu of actually transcribing his comments, I'm just going to "You Tube" various quotes from the lecture.  While this may read as a bit laughable, just remember this man has real influence.

Rubin: "No one saw the extreme confluences of events that led to this recession."

Research Edge: We went to 96% cash in September 2008 and we were hardly alone in this call.

Rubin: "Everyone missed it."

Research Edge: Everyone who owned Citigroup stock or was on their Board, definitely missed it.

Rubin: "The most important academic experience for my career in finance was my first year class at Harvard in Greek Philosophy."

Research Edge: Not a lot of quantitative analysis was taught in Greek Philosophy as I recall from my first year Greek philosophy class.

Rubin:  "I do not believe there are bad assets."

Research Edge: So there are only good assets? What about highly levered banks that ostensibly have no equity value . . . bad assets?

Rubin:  "I called for more regulation on derivatives in my 2003 book." (said this about 4x)

Research Edge: What did you DO when you were in those board meetings at Citi?

Rubin: "There is no risk of any defaults on sovereign debt globally."

Research Edge: History tells us that sovereign defaults will likely increase dramatically in the coming months.

Rubin:  "A key problem in our Democracy is that our electorate is not informed."

Research Edge: My mom didn't go to Harvard, Yale Law School, or work at Goldman Sachs, but I'd consider her very informed.  She also does math.

Rubin:  "I ran the whole bloody thing (sales and trading) at Goldman Sachs, so I think I understand a thing or two about markets."

Research Edge: I guess experience at Goldman makes any opinion valid.

Rubin:  "Psychology changes (and thus markets) move for no reason."

Research Edge:  This is an interesting comment for a guy that ran sales and trading at Goldman for so long.

Rubin:  "I think there is something in human nature that causes euphoria in markets."

Research Edge: Gee, thanks Ruby.

Rubin:  "The criticisms of the Clinton years' major economic policies, repealing of Glass-Steagall, lack of regulation of derivatives, and the creation of the CRA, as contributing factors to this crisis are unwarranted."

Research Edge: We don't necessarily blame Rubin or Clinton, but certainly they are far from blameless. A little accountability could be a start.

Rubin:  "That little group (referring to President Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board) is having good meetings."

Research Edge: This "little group" includes Paul Volcker, David Swenson, Bill Donaldson, and John Doer, to name a few.


Arrogance is scary in its own right, but can be outright dangerous when it is the key characteristic of a person of real influence.   Perhaps Mark Twain summed it up best when he said: "The offspring of riches: pride, vanity, ostentation, arrogance, tyranny." The minute any of us believe that our resume or wealth makes us impervious to criticism is a dangerous time indeed.

Daryl G. Jones
Managing Director