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About James Freeman
James Freeman is assistant editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page and author of the weekday Best of the Web column and newsletter. He writes about business, finance and taxes among other issues, and is a contributor to the FOX News Channel. Before joining the Journal in September 2007, he served as investor advocate at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, where he encouraged the transformation of financial reporting technology to benefit individual investors.
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From the first moments of his presidency, Donald J. Trump put US economic revival at the top of his agenda. Cutting red tape and slashing business tax rates made companies eager to locate in America again. A surge in corporate investment led to record numbers of US job openings.
But there was also another force at work at the start of the Trump era, and it’s impossible to provide a fair accounting of Trump’s governance without noting the unique obstacles he’s faced. The President’s critics styled themselves “The Resistance,” as if they were confronting a tyrant at the head of an invading army rather than their duly elected President. Much of the media establishment regularly—and wrongly—accused him of betraying the country. Most disturbing was the resistance movement inside government, formed even before the 2016 election, which unleashed unprecedented surveillance against Donald Trump.
The political and media warfare has never ended. Just as an impeachment case collapsed in the Senate earlier this year, the world was beginning to realize how large a threat the Chinese communist government had become—and what it had been hiding in Wuhan. The destruction caused by the coronavirus is the latest and greatest test for the Trump prosperity agenda.
Once again the health and wealth of the world depend on US leadership for economic revival. This is the story of the man US voters chose to lead in 2016 and will soon consider to lead again.
The disturbing, untold story of one of the largest financial institutions in the world, Citigroup—one of the " too big to fail" banks—from its founding in 1812 to its role in the 2008 financial crisis, and the many disasters in between.
During the 2008 financial crisis, Citi was presented as the victim of events beyond its control—the larger financial panic, unforeseen economic disruptions, and a perfect storm of credit expansion, private greed, and public incompetence. To save the economy and keep the bank afloat, the government provided huge infusions of cash through multiple bailouts that frustrated and angered the American public.
But, as financial experts James Freeman and Vern McKinley reveal, the 2008 crisis was just one of many disasters Citi has experienced since its founding more than two hundred years ago. In Borrowed Time, they reveal Citi’s history of instability and government support. It’s not a story that either Citi or Washington wants told.
From its founding in 1812 and through much of its history the bank has been tied to the federal government—a relationship that has benefited both. Many of its initial stockholders had owned stock in the Bank of the United States, and its first president, Samuel Osgood, had been a member of the Continental Congress and America’s first Postmaster General. From its earliest years, Citi took massive risks that led to crisis. But thanks to private investors, including John Jacob Astor, they survived throughout the nineteenth century.
In the twentieth century, Senator Carter Glass blamed Citi CEO "Sunshine Charlie" Mitchell for the 1929 stock market crash, and the bank was actually in violation of the senator’s signature achievement, the Glass-Steagall law, in the late 1990s until then U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin engineered the law’s repeal. Rubin later became the chairman of the executive committee of Citigroup, helping to oversee the bank as it ramped up its increasing mortgage risks before the 2008 crash.
The scale of the financial panic of 2008 was not, as the media and experts claim, unprecedented. As Borrowed Time shows, disasters have been relatively frequent during the century of government-protected banking—especially at Citi.