I suppose by now I should give up my dream of seeing Wall Street Executives responsible, at least in part, for the 2008 financial crisis wearing orange jumpsuits with their hands cuffed in chains around their waste and doing the “penguin-shuffle” perp-walk from the courthouse to an awaiting Department Of Corrections transport van.
But is the humongous mess they caused behind us?
In terms of the economy, not no, but hell no. Our economy, although not retracting, (which was a happening before President Dick “the-heart-transplant-stealer” Cheney, and his Puppet-in-Chief George W. Bush could slither away) remains bogged down with high unemployment, low growth and other aftershocks.
We also should not just chalk it up to such simplistic explanations as “animal spirits ran amok” and “these things happen occasionally”. Neither should we persist in using inadequate political and law-enforcement wherewithal trying to find the underlying cause of what happened, and why, with a goal of holding the right people legally and financially accountable.
It’s a problem, especially since many Americans have lost interest for the fight. But the path we take will expose us to the rest of the world (and, as it stands now, to me as well) about who we are as a people and what principles, standards and integrity we actually stand for. How (and if) we resolve this fiasco will have severe long-lasting implications if we hope to avoid a rerun of what happened.
So far, the only message we are disseminating is: Sorry folks. There will be no justice; there will be no accountability; let’s forget the whole ugly mess. Kinda like we’ve forgotten that we killed five times more Native Americans in taking over this county, than Hitler killed Jews before and during WWII. vehemently
Move Along Folks, Nothing Here to See
As one would imagine, there are influential and eloquent voices in favor of just moving along. In his book “Unintended Consequences,” Edward Conard, a former Bain Capital partner of Mitt Romney , argues vehemently that intermittent market collapses, ( like 1929 and 2008) are a small price to pay for a structure of capital distribution that has fashioned enormous sums of wealth, astonishing technological and financial modernization, and an enticement system that rewards people handsomely for taking risks.
Conard contends, that this is the country that produced Apple Inc. (AAPL), Google Inc. (GOOG) and Facebook Inc. (FB); among the most admired and successful corporations in the world. He considers the sooner we get back to unbinding Wall Street’s animal instincts the better. This, of course, really means modest regulation, at best, and an end to any efforts at doling out justice for those personally to blame for the financial crisis because, well, hey, stuff happens.
- How little he cares for much of what is in the Dodd-Frank law
- The proposed Volcker Rule which limits banks’ ability to trade for their own account.
- His belief that the right kind of financial regulation is similar to laws preventing drunk driving.
- The biggest surprise of all (NOT) was that, Dimon, like Conard, said the new regulatory environment is holding back economic growth.
He said he had discussed the topic with business owners and executives around the country (probably during a weekend in the Hamptons):
“They all say it’s terrible. So it’s not just banks. We’ve done it to ourselves, folks. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot and we’re doing it every day. Get rid of that wet blanket and this thing will take off.”
Even Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), has been stirring the same old pot after laying low for a few years.
“Getting rid of some regulations and rules that are impairing people from investing vast pools of liquidity that are on the sideline, that are not owned by the government, that are theirs to invest but are just sitting on the sideline” will help get the economy humming again, he told CNBC.
Won’t Be Happy Until Volker Rule is Watered Down More than Whiskey During Prohibition
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that lawyers and lobbyists for Wall Street firms are working the regulators over with renewed intensity over what the Volcker Rule will end up looking like when it is finally written. JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have spent, respectively, $12.7 million and $8.3 million since the passage of the Dodd-Frank law in July 2010 on lobbying the regulators who are still drafting the final regulations.
Just a few weeks ago, Goldman asked for an exclusion for certain investments from a Volcker rule proposal that would limit a bank’s total investment in hedge and private-equity funds to 3 percent of Tier I capital. Why? Because Goldman obviously makes a ton of money investing in this manner.
On the other side of the debate are people like Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate from Massachusetts, who still believes that accountability for the bad behavior that occurred years ago on Wall Street is not only essential, but mandatory if we are to have any credibility on the world financial stage.
“People feel like the system is rigged against them,” she said at the Democratic National Convention in September. “And here’s the painful part: they’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs — the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs — still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them. Anyone here have a problem with that? Well I do.”
The Epitome of Brass Balls
Not one single person on Wall Street has paid a stern price for literally millions of Americans losing their life-savings, retirement means, houses, cars, and dignity. The one criminal prosecution (of the Bear Stearns hedge-fund managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin) failed wretchedly.
Every bank received a slap on the wrist, or had its insurance carrier or its shareholders cough up a few hundred million dollars. But every single one of them considers that merely the cost of doing business. Some local governments, most recently New York State, have decided to get aw much as possible from the banks for badly needed cash rather than charge the reprobates themselves.
Prosecutors used to be extremely vigilant about prosecuting bad financial behavior on Wall Street. According to the Financial Times, during the savings-and-loan crisis of the mid 1980s, some 3,500 bankers were jailed for their transgressions. But then they used to be extremely vigilant about so many other situations that were contrary to the good of the public. To name a just two:
- Anti-trust enforcement given that monopolies are the antithesis of Capitalism.
- Price-fixing and collusion among suppliers or retailers to bilk consumers
To this day, I haven’t heard a single explanation for why the number of victorious prosecutions in the wake of our most recent financial crisis remains at zero despite two wildly pro-active, yet disparate groups, being formed from a groundswell of protest against the lack of prosecutorial action against the major players in the 2008 financial collapse:
- The Original Tea Party (co-opted and assimilated into an anti-government movement)
- Occupy Wall Street( Brutalized and crushed into submission by a coordinated police action)
If we are not going to respect our own laws and hold all people equally accountable, regardless of race, creed, color, or financial standing…why on earth would anyone else?
If Mitt Romney, the epitome of legacy entitlement; a man who has literally taken any position, on any issue, just to cross “President of the United States” off of his personal Bucket List is elected President, we might as well go ahead and dismantle the Statue of Liberty and ship it back to France. The man has no more business being President than my great aunt Fannie.
If Mr. Romney is elected, having experienced what being part of the quintessential segment of society for whom laws nor justice apply, the once-predominant meme for our country, Equal Liberty and Justice for All Americans, will be about as significant as a fart in a hurricane.