Ray Farnham, my 7th grade Social Studies teacher, was always describing the challenge of history, since time began, as the nothing more than separating big potatoes from the small potatoes. Teacher Ray’s story example:
Once there was a man who was hired to sort potatoes into two piles—big potatoes and small potatoes. His employer thought this task should take no more than a couple of hours. However, when he returned at the end of the day, he found his helper sitting in front of the huge pile holding a potato in each hand, while muttering to himself, “decisions, decisions, decisions.”
U.S. government economic bailout of 2008 is the most recent example of the big potatoes sorting the potatoes into two piles with 99% ending up in the small potato pile.
Henry “Hank” Merritt Paulson, Jr. (born March 28, 1946) is an American banker who served as the 74th Secretary of the Treasury. He had served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs,
The support given by Federal Reserve Board, under Ben Bernanke, and the US Treasury with Paulson at the helm, in the acquisition of Bear Stearns by J.P. Morgan and the $200bn facility made available to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac attracted a great deal of criticism in congress by both Republicans and Democrats. Paulson and Geithner made every effort to enable Barclays to acquire Lehman Brothers, including convincing other large Wall Street firms to commit their own funds to support the deal. In light of the recent Bear Stearns criticism, Paulson was against committing public funds towards a bailout, for fear of being labelled ‘Mr Bailout’. When British regulators indicated they would not approve the purchase, Lehman went into bankruptcy, and Paulson and Geithner worked to contain the systemic impact.
“Well, as you know, we’re working through a difficult period in our financial markets right now as we work off some of the past excesses. But the American people can remain confident in the soundness and the resilience of our financial system.” 
In the aftermath of Lehman’s failure and the simultaneous purchase of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America, already fragile credit markets froze, so that companies having nothing to do with banking but needed financing (e.g. General Electric) could not get daily funding requirements which had the effect of sending the US equity/bond markets into turmoil between September 15, 2008, and September 19, 2008.
Paulson, acting as U.S. Treasury Secretary, caused outcries from both the Republican and Democratic Parties as well as the general populace as he tried to get the situation under control.
Through unprecedented intervention by the U.S. Treasury, Paulson led government efforts which he said were aimed at avoiding a severe economic slowdown. After the Dow Jones dropped 30% and turmoil ensued in the global markets, Paulson pushed through legislation authorizing the Treasury to use $700 billion to stabilize the financial system. Working with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, he influenced the decision to create a credit facility (bridge loan and warrants) of US$85 billion to American International Group so it would avoid filing bankruptcy, after having been told that AIG held teacher pension plans, 401k plans, $1.5 trillion in life insurance plans for Americans, and the French Finance Minister called to let Paulson know that AIG held the interests of many Eurozone countries.
On September 19, 2008, Paulson called for the U.S. government to use hundreds of billions of Treasury dollars to help financial firms clean up nonperforming mortgages threatening the liquidity of those firms. Because of his leadership and public appearances on this issue, the press labeled these measures the “Paulson financial rescue plan” or simply the Paulson Plan.
With the passage of H.R. 1424, Paulson became the manager of the United States Emergency Economic Stabilization fund.
As Treasury Secretary, he also sat on the newly established Financial Stability Oversight Board that oversaw the Troubled Assets Relief Program.
Paulson agreed with Bernanke that the only way to unlock the frozen capital markets was to provide direct injections into financial institutions so investors would have confidence in these institutions. The government would take a non-voting share position, with 5% dividends for the first year on the money lent to the banks and 9% thereafter until the banks stabilized and could repay the government loans. According to the book Too Big To Fail, Paulson, Bernanke, New York Federal Reserve Chairman Timothy Geithner, and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair attended the meeting on October 13, 2008, at which this plan was presented to the CEOs of nine major banks.
Time magazine on Henry Paulson
Time named Paulson as a runner-up for its 2008 Person of the Year, saying, with reference to the global financial crisis, “if there is a face to this financial debacle, it is now his…” before concluding that “given the … realities he faced, there is no obviously better path [he] could have followed”.
Conflict of interest claims
It has been pointed out that Paulson’s plan could potentially have some conflicts of interest, since Paulson was a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, a firm that might benefit largely from the plan. Economic columnists called for more scrutiny of his actions. Questions remain about Paulson’s interest, despite having no direct financial interest in Goldman, since he had sold his entire stake in the firm prior to becoming Treasury Secretary, pursuant to ethics law. The Goldman Sachs benefit from the AIG bailout was recently estimated as US$12.9 billion and GS was the largest recipient of the public funds from AIG. Creating the collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s) forming the basis of the current crisis was an active part of Goldman Sach’s business during Paulson’s tenure as CEO. Opponents argued that Paulson remained a Wall Street insider who maintained close friendships with higher-ups of the bailout beneficiaries. If passed into law as originally written, the proposed bill would have given the United States Treasury Secretary unprecedented powers over the economic and financial life of the U.S. Section 8 of Paulson’s original plan stated: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.” Some time after the passage of a rewritten bill, the press reported that the Treasury was now proposing to use these funds ($700 billion) in ways other than what was originally intended in the bill.
Ben Shalom Bernanke bar NANG kee born December 13, 1953) is an American economist at the Brookings Institution who served two terms as chairman of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, from 2006 to 2014. During his tenure as chairman, Bernanke oversaw the Federal Reserve’s response to the late-2000s financial crisis. Bernanke attended Harvard University, where he lived in Winthrop House, as did the future CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, Before becoming Federal Reserve chairman, Bernanke was a tenured professor at Princeton University and chaired the department of economics there from 1996 to September 2002, when he went on public service leave.
From August 5, 2002 until June 21, 2005, he was a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, proposed the Bernanke Doctrine, and first discussed “the Great Moderation” — the theory that traditional business cycles have declined in volatility in recent decades through structural changes that have occurred in the international economy, particularly increases in the economic stability of developing nations, diminishing the influence of macroeconomic (monetary and fiscal) policy.
Bernanke then served as chairman of President George W. Bush‘s Council of Economic Advisers before President Bush nominated him to succeed Alan Greenspan as chairman of the United States Federal Reserve. His first term began February 1, 2006. Bernanke was confirmed for a second term as chairman on January 28, 2010, after being renominated by President Barack Obama, who later referred to him as “the epitome of calm.”  His second term ended February 1, 2014, when he was succeeded by Janet Yellen.
Merrill Lynch merger with Bank of America
In a letter to Congress from then-New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo dated April 23, 2009, Bernanke was mentioned along with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in allegations of fraud concerning the acquisition of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America. The letter alleged that the extent of the losses at Merrill Lynch were not disclosed to Bank of America by Bernanke and Paulson. When Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis informed Paulson that Bank of America was exiting the merger by invoking the “Materially Adverse Change” (MAC) clause, Paulson immediately called Lewis to a meeting in Washington. At the meeting, which allegedly took place on December 21, 2008, Paulson told Lewis that he and the board would be replaced if they invoked the MAC clause and additionally not to reveal the extent of the losses to shareholders. Paulson stated to Cuomo’s office that he was directed by Bernanke to threaten Lewis in this manner.
Bernanke is particularly interested in the economic and political causes of the Great Depression, on which he has published numerous academic journal articles. Before Bernanke’s work, the dominant monetarist theory of the Great Depression was Milton Friedman’s view that it had been largely caused by the Federal Reserve‘s having reduced the money supply and has on several occasions argued that one of the biggest mistakes made during the period was to raise interest rates too early. In a speech on Milton Friedman’s ninetieth birthday (November 8, 2002), Bernanke said, “Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna [Schwartz, Friedman’s coauthor]: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”
Bernanke has cited Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz in his decision to lower interest rates to zero. Anna Schwartz, however, was highly critical of Bernanke and wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times advising Obama against his reappointment as chair of the Federal Reserve. Bernanke focused less on the role of the Federal Reserve and more on the role of private banks and financial institutions.
Bernanke wrote about his time as chairman of the Federal Reserve in his 2015 book, The Courage to Act, in which he revealed that the world’s economy came close to collapse in 2007 and 2008. Bernanke asserts that it was only the novel efforts of the Fed (cooperating with other agencies and agencies of foreign governments) that prevented an economic catastrophe greater than the Great Depression.
Greenspan On June 2, 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Greenspan as a successor to Paul Volcker as chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, and the Senate confirmed him on August 11, 1987. Investor, author and commentator Jim Rogershas said that Greenspan lobbied to get this chairmanship.
Two months after his confirmation Greenspan said immediately following the 1987 stock market crash that the Fed “affirmed today its readiness to serve as a source of liquidity to support the economic and financial system” George H. W. Bush blamed Fed policy for not winning a second term. Democratic president Bill Clinton reappointed Greenspan, and consulted him on economic matters. Greenspan lent support to Clinton’s 1993 deficit reduction program. Greenspan, while still fundamentally monetarist in orientation, had eclectic views on the economy, and his monetary policy decisions largely followed standard Taylor rule prescriptions (see Taylor 1993 and 1999). Greenspan also played a key role in organizing the U.S. bailout of Mexico during the 1994-95 Mexican peso crisis.
In 2000, Greenspan raised interest rates several times; these actions were believed by many to have caused the bursting of the dot-com bubble. According to laureate Paul, however, “he didn’t raise interest rates to curb the market’s enthusiasm; he didn’t even seek to impose margin requirements on stock market investors. Instead, he waited until the bubble burst, as it did in 2000, then tried to clean up the mess afterward”. E. Ray Canterbery agrees with Krugman’s criticism.
In January 2001, Greenspan, in support of President Bush’s proposed tax decrease, stated that the federal surplus could accommodate a significant tax cut while paying down the national debt.
In autumn 2001, as a decisive reaction to the September 11 attacks and various corporate scandals which undermined the economy, the Greenspan-led Federal Reserve initiated a series of interest cuts that brought down the Federal Funds rate to 1% in 2004. While presenting the Federal Reserve’s Monetary Policy Report in July 2002, he said that “It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously”. and suggested that financial markets need to be regulated. His critics, led by Steve Forbes, attributed the rapid rise in commodity prices and gold to Greenspan’s loose monetary policy, which Forbes believed had caused excessive asset inflation and a weak dollar. By late 2004, the price of gold was higher than its 12-year moving average.
On May 18, 2004, Greenspan was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve for an unprecedented fifth term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. He was previously appointed to the post by Presidents Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton.
In a May 2005 speech, Greenspan stated: “Two years ago at this conference I argued that the growing array of derivatives and the related application of more-sophisticated methods for measuring and managing risks had been key factors underlying the remarkable resilience of the banking system, which had recently shrugged off severe shocks to the economy and the financial system. At the same time, I indicated some concerns about the risks associated with derivatives, including the risks posed by concentration in certain derivatives markets, notably the over-the-counter (OTC) markets for U.S. dollar interest rate options.”
Greenspan opposed tariffs against People’s Republic of China for its refusal to let the yuan rise, suggesting instead that any American workers displaced by trade could be compensated through unemployment insurance and retraining programs.
Greenspan’s term as a member of the Board ended on January 31, 2006, and Ben Bernanke was confirmed as his successor.
The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. is an American multinational investment banking firm that engages in global investment banking, investment, securities and other financial services primarily with institutional clients.
Goldman Sachs was founded in 1869 and is headquartered at 200 West Street in Lower Manhattan, New York City, with additional offices in other international financial centers. The firm provides asset management, mergers and acquisitions advice, prime brokerage and underwriting services to its clients, which include corporations, governments and individuals. The firm also engages in market and private equity deals, and is a primary dealer in the U.S. Treasury security market.
Goldman Sachs was hit hard by the 2008 economic crisis, because of its involvement in subprime mortgages, and was subsequently rescued as part of a massive U.S. government bailout.
Former Goldman executives who moved on to government positions include, but are not limited to, Robert Rubin and Paulson who served as U.S. Secretaries of the Treasury under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively; Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, and Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada from 2008–13 and Governor of the Bank of England since July 2013.
Volcker was an economic advisor to President Barack Obama, heading the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. During the financial crisis, Volcker has been extremely critical of banks, saying that their response to the financial crisis has been inadequate, and that more regulation of banks is called for. Specifically, Volcker has called for a break-up of the nation’s largest banks, prohibiting deposit-taking institutions from engaging in riskier activities such as proprietary trading, private equity, and hedge fund investments