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Make Bailouts Illegal!

Question: Do you believe policymakers were/are captured or co-opted by the financial industry?

Barney Frank:  Well, the answer is that you didn't have to capture people who were willing.  Under the Bush Administration in particular, but to some extent under the Clinton Administration, the dominant philosophy was the market knows best.  In 1994, Congress passed a bill to give the Federal Reserve the power to regulate sub-prime mortgages no matter who gave them, not just from banks.  Alan Greenspan explicitly refused to use that power.  He said, "Look, the market knows better than I."  He now admits that that was a cause of an error because the single, biggest problem you have with all those mortgages that were made that couldn't be paid, that were then sent out and sold out--they were the base of that chain reaction.

And the Clinton Administration was better than the Bush Administration.  When the Bush Administration came in, they appointed people who didn't believe in regulation. So it was not that the banks captured them, it's that they volunteered to become parts of that operation.

Question: Who are your philosophical influences, and how do they impact your policymaking?

Barney Frank:  I find Joseph Stiglitz, who was the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Clinton, and then was fired from the World Bank because he was being critical of their policies that were anti-working people.  I have found him to be extremely thoughtful.  Paul Volcker, the former Chairman of the Federal who preceded Alan Greenspan, is an example of someone who understands the financial community but also knows precisely because he does, that you need regulation.  And Paul Volcker has been someone we have paid attention to.  Elizabeth Warren has been a major guide in the consumer area.  She's a professor at Harvard Law School who began to look into the consumer area.  And one of the things I'm proudest of is when we passed the Bill in the committee I chaired to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, not everything we wanted, but more than 90% of it, Elizabeth Warren was very, very congratulatory and she said, and I love this quote, (she came up with the idea of the Consumer Agency): “They told me not even to try to get such an agency because in Washington, the banks always win.  Well, they didn't win today."  So those are three people who have had an impact.  Joe Stiglitz on the overall economic importance, Paul Volcker on the regulatory area and Elizabeth Warren on the Consumer Protection.

Question: How do we credibly commit to not bailing out large firms going forward? 

Barney Frank:  By making it illegal and we do that in the bill that we passed and I think the Senate will pass.  You're right.  In 2004 the Republications were in control of Congress.  In 2004 some of us on the Democratic side tried to pass further legislation when giving the Federal Reserve the right to regulate sub-prime mortgages.  Now, we want to go beyond that and just outlaw some of them.  The Republicans in control said, "No.  We don't believe in that.   That's regulation."  They wouldn't do any of what was called for.

What we do in our bill is, first of all, to say that no federal funds can go to keep the institution in business.  "Too Big To Fail" meant that the institution would be kept going.  We make that illegal.  No federal money can go for that.  There might be money used to pay off some of the debts if the failure to pay any of the debts would cause a systemic crisis, but that won't be taxpayer dollars.

We also in our bill did a couple of other important things.  Under the bill, nothing can be done including paying off some of those debts to prevent a crisis until all the shareholder money is wiped out, until all the Board of Directors and executives are fired.  The institution is over.  That's statutory and it's illegal to do anything other than that.  Before that, we have a systemic risk regulator that steps in and would've said to an AIG, "You are way over extended.  You must stop selling credit default swaps.  You must greatly increase the capital you have to hold against losses."

In addition, we say with regard to the "Too Big To Fail" operation that you tell them in advance, "We're going to break you up.  We don't want you getting into that sort of position where you owe more money than you could conceivably pay."  But the fundamental point we make is this: if it does not work and an institution does get so indebted, that institution is over.

And one last point.  Over the objection of many in the financial community and not requested by the Obama Administration, we added an amendment hotly contested that said, "Even if you're a secured creditor of one of those institutions, we don't have to pay everything.  We may give you a 10 percent haircut."  In other words, we want to make people very nervous.  I'll tell you one thing I was very proud of.  The Securities Industry and Financial Marketing Association, which represents the securities people, they objected to our bill in how we deal with an institution that's going to be put out of business.  They said our bill was not 'creditor friendly'.  They said the Republican approach was better for creditors.  That goes particularly to the question of "Too Big To Fail" and of moral hazard.

In other words, our bill says to the creditors, "Hey, you better check on the security of that institution because if that institution gets over-extended, do not count on us to come to your rescue, certainly not if you're an unsecured creditor and even if you're a secured creditor, we may only pay 90 percent."

Recorded on January 22, 2010

Barney Frank thinks no federal funds can go to keep institutions in business. His bill, already passed by Congress, seeks to make creditors very, very nervous.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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