Wall Street's Big Win
Finance reform won't stop the high-risk gambling that wrecked the economy - and Republicans aren't the only ones to blame
By Matt Taibbi Aug 04, 2010 1:00 PM EDT
But is the nightmare really over, or is this just another Inception-style trick ending? It's hard to figure, given all the absurd rhetoric emanating from the leadership of both parties. Obama and the Democrats boasted that the bill is the "toughest financial reform since the ones we created in the aftermath of the Great Depression" – a claim that would maybe be more impressive if Congress had passed any financial reforms since the Great Depression, or at least any that didn't specifically involve radically undoing the Depression-era laws.
The Republicans, meanwhile, were predictably hysterical. They described the new law – officially known as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – as something not far from a full-blown Marxist seizure of the means of production. House Minority Leader John Boehner shrieked that it was like "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon," apparently forgetting that the ant crisis in question wiped out about 40 percent of the world's wealth in a little over a year, making its smallness highly debatable.
But Dodd-Frank was neither an FDR-style, paradigm-shifting reform, nor a historic assault on free enterprise. What it was, ultimately, was a cop-out, a Band-Aid on a severed artery. If it marks the end of anything at all, it represents the end of the best opportunity we had to do something real about the criminal hijacking of America's financial-services industry. During the yearlong legislative battle that forged this bill, Congress took a long, hard look at the shape of the modern American economy – and then decided that it didn't have the stones to wipe out our country's one dependably thriving profit center: theft. more
Credit crunch consequences: three years after the crisis, what's changed?
The economic meltdown of 2007 shook the world – but financial reforms have failed to address fundamental problems
Larry Elliott, David Teather and Jill Treanor
The Observer, Sunday 8 August 2010
Bankers were burned in effigy during the G20 protests in the City of London in 2009, and heads rolled metaphorically everywhere from Northern Rock to Bear Stearns, but capitalism is still flourishing.
It was supposed to have been the day the world changed. The credit crunch "officially" began on 9 August 2007, and there were plenty ready to dance on the grave of capitalism and the free markets. But three years on, for all the hand-wringing, the economic upheaval and the promises of politicians, there is a whiff of business as usual in the air. The banks have returned to substantial profit, City bonuses are moving back to dizzying heights, international efforts for further co-operation have largely come unstuck, cranes are once more rising over the Square Mile and house prices are moving north.
Many are beginning to question whether anything has really changed at all; others maintain that things have simply got worse, that the old hegemony has been reinforced rather than loosened, widening the disparity between the wealthy and the rest.
Getting a mortgage has been put out of the reach of many people, savings are dwindling, high streets have become bleaker places and the expansion of public sector debt, partly to keep the world from plunging into a depression, means there will only be more painful austerity measures to come, affecting everything from arts funding to welfare. Politically, the shift has been to the right, particularly in Britain.
"Of course the credit crunch is leading to lots of changes and we haven't seen all of them yet," says Sir John Gieve, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England. "But in two big respects, I don't think it did change the world. First, the speed of globalisation, the integration of the global economy, including finance, is continuing, and second, it is continuing around broadly a free-market model. moreAnd the findings of just how corrupt the economic meltdown was continue to roll in.
The AIG Bailout Scandal
August 6, 2010
The government’s $182 billion bailout of insurance giant AIG should be seen as the Rosetta Stone for understanding the financial crisis and its costly aftermath. The story of American International Group explains the larger catastrophe not because this was the biggest corporate bailout in history but because AIG’s collapse and subsequent rescue involved nearly all the critical elements, including delusion and deception. These financial dealings are monstrously complicated, but this account focuses on something mere mortals can understand—moral confusion in high places, and the failure of governing institutions to fulfill their obligations to the public.
Three governmental investigative bodies have now pored through the AIG wreckage and turned up disturbing facts—the House Committee on Oversight and Reform; the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which will make its report at year’s end; and the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP), which issued its report on AIG in June.
The five-member COP, chaired by Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, has produced the most devastating and comprehensive account so far. Unanimously adopted by its bipartisan members, it provides alarming insights that should be fodder for the larger debate many citizens long to hear—why Washington rushed to forgive the very interests that produced this mess, while innocent others were made to suffer the consequences. The Congressional panel’s critique helps explain why bankers and their Washington allies do not want Elizabeth Warren to chair the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The most troubling revelation in this story is the astonishing weakness of the Federal Reserve and its incompetence as a faithful defender of the public interest.
The report concludes that the Federal Reserve Board’s intimate relations with the leading powers of Wall Street—the same banks that benefited most from the government’s massive bailout—influenced its strategic decisions on AIG. The panel accuses the Fed and the Treasury Department of brushing aside alternative approaches that would have saved tens of billions in public funds by making these same banks “share the pain.”
Bailing out AIG effectively meant rescuing Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch (as well as a dozens of European banks) from huge losses. Those financial institutions played the derivatives game with AIG, the esoteric practice of placing financial bets on future events. AIG lost its bets, which led to its collapse. But other gamblers—the counterparties in AIG’s derivative deals—were made whole on their bets, paid off 100 cents on the dollar. Taxpayers got stuck with the bill. more