Daniel Gross' Slate column this week is called "Phil Gramm's UBS Problem." Now, I think Phil Gramm is a dishonest hack, but I'm on record saying that the UBS-Gramm connection is basically meaningless. I thought Gross may have new information on the connection, or a good argument for why the connection is important. But Gross himself admits toward the end of the column that UBS's problems have virtually nothing to do with Gramm:
Critics have charged that Gramm's action as a senator helped lay the groundwork for some of the problems in the housing and oil markets. But it's hard to pin any of the UBS debacles on the former Texas senator. At UBS, Gramm held the post of vice chairman, a position Michelle Leder dubbed in these pages as "the greatest job in business" for its combination of high status and low work rate. Gramm was a lobbyist and adviser, not an operating executive. And he had nothing to do with the forces that impelled banks and banking executives into foolish behavior in recent years; cheap money, greed, and a bubble mentality are far bigger than Gramm. But UBS's continuing travails should lead us to wonder how effective Gramm is as an elder statesman. As an adviser, an economist, an expert in the ways of Washington and in the American financial system, part of Gramm's job surely was to advise the bank how to stay out of investment and regulatory trouble. Oops! Of course, being a senior employee of a bank at a time when it was destroying shareholder value, screwing over customers, and having run-ins with federal prosecutors shouldn't preclude one from serving in the Cabinet. Apply that standard across the board, and—given the pervasive incompetence and mendacity on Wall Street in this decade and last—the next president, Obama or McCain, will have to look to a tiny credit union in Kansas for a treasury secretary.So why, exactly, does Gramm have a UBS problem again?