You have to hand it to Bart Chilton, the head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, for trying to make commodities markets as colourful as possible.He titled a recent speech that he gave at the Arkansas State University Agribusiness Conference “Red,” and it’s full of great charming quotes (“Can I get an Amen?”)and pop culture references, like the Oscar’s and most importantly, the Toby Keith song, “Red Solo Cup.”
The speech was about the history of the futures market in the U.S., which was developed to help farmers through winter months.
That part is fun, but Chilton really gets into the groove when he’s talking about how the futures market is changing and what caused the 2008 financial crisis.
So here’s the question, and I’ve heard it from many producers and commercial ag interests: Are markets continuing to fulfil those important fundamental purposes of the markets from way back in the 1850s? Are the markets still providing a place for producers and agri-businesses to appropriately hedge their risks and for fair price discovery for consumers? Well, that’s a worthy question, Grasshopper. Can I get an “amen?”
Here’s what we do know: markets have been, and are today, right this very moment, morphing. It is happening now. Look around, can ya’ smell it? They are changing and mutating. That’s not always a good thing. That mutating stuff is a little scary, right? Right! If you’ve ever seen a poisonous Giant Redheaded Centipede (Scolpendra Heros for you entomologists), and they have ’em here in the Natural State, ya’ know what I mean. For the record, I oppose Giant Redheaded Centipede futures markets. In fact, I’m not afraid to say it, I oppose Giant Redheaded Centipedes. I’m not frightened to take a position on them—they’re nasty.
At this point you may be wondering when Chilton is going to make his point. Don’t worry, it’s coming (along with the word “buckaroos”):
The potion in my notion, and in point of fact I actually have one, is this: markets are mutating, morphing, transforming, changing . . . whatever, what have you. But, you don’t have to take it from me—the longhaired Giant Redheaded Centipede opposing dude. In order to fully appreciate what has been going on, we need to only look to the report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, or FCIC. They sound official, right? Well, they sound like that for good reason. The Commission was comprised in the wake of the 2008 red lava economic meltdown after taxpayers had collectively gone into the red by bailing out Wall Street to the hot and tasty tune of—wait for it—more than $400 billion buckaroos. The Commission was comprised of folks who Congress asked to explain wha wha what exactly happened. How did things go so horribly wrong?
This is where Chilton takes a high road and blames himself for the financial crisis:
I’ll tell ya’ what, in essence, FCIC said. There were two culprits to the calamity:
Lax laws, rules, regulations and regulators—that’s guys like me—who weren’t paying attention; and
The Captains of Wall Street who took advantage of the lax laws, rules and regs and the “asleep at the switch” regulators.
And here’s where he uses plasticware and country music to explain the greatest calamity our economy has seen since the 1930s.
You all know that great Toby Keith song, Red Solo Cup?
“Red solo cup, I fill you up. Let’s have a party, let’s have a party.”
Well, for about eight years, leading up to 2008, there was a big party on Wall Street. They proceeded to party. The high-flyers were taking speculative risks beyond anything we’d ever witnessed. Many times these were wild, casino-like financial instruments—derivatives, on say, bundles of mortgages—that wrecked our economy when they crashed. Nine million people lost their jobs—millions more their homes. Oil prices soared to near $150 a barrel and gasoline prices reached an all-time and still undefeated “champeen,” high of $4.10 per gallon in June of 2008. People had to choose between food and fuel. And as all this was going on, technology intervened in the markets like never before.
That’s one way to describe it.
And in case you’ve never heard the song, here’s the video: