Thursday, May 31, 2012

Charles Ferguson discovers the Predators

Charles Ferguson made a small pile of money selling Vermeer, his software company, to Microsoft in 1996 for $133 million.  Vermeer's main product was a visual website development tool called Frontpage.  I only tried Frontpage a couple of times but I found it slow, clumsy, and poorly developed.  But then, I am an Apple guy and tend to dislike Microsoft products so maybe Vermeer was priced right.  In any case, Ferguson now had much more money than he could stuff in his wallet.  So inevitably he wound up trying to invest his small fortune.  Suddenly his software world of cause and effect was gone and he was surrounded by cutthroats.  My guess is that he lost a part of his bundle and was furious because he had been cheated.  And so he makes a very interesting movie called Inside Job that wins him the Oscar for documentaries in 2010.  I thought it was a damn fine effort—you can read my review here.

Apparently, he is still pretty pissed off at the banksters because now he has written a book called Predator Nation.  I have not read it but judging from the essay below, you can watch his mind evolve.  Ferguson is a Producer who has discovered that the Producer way to get rich in USA is beset by increasing hazards.  For everyone like him these days, there seems to be a thousand guys trying to rip him off.  But you can see that he has not thought about this problem very deeply because in the first sentence of the article below, he indicates a belief that this phenomenon has only existed since the 1980s.  As someone who has been writing about the Predators since the 1980s, I can assure Ferguson that Predation in business only became more brazen and obvious then.  But Predators feasting on Producers has been going on since at least the dawn of agriculture.  And I am pretty sure he has some ways to go before understanding Producer-Predator class analysis.

Anyway, welcome to the tiny club of Producer theorists Mr. Ferguson.  I would recommend you read Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class.  You are now eminently qualified to understand it.  Given your obvious intellectual progress since 1996, you will probably figure out most of this on your own.  But as an inventor, don't you wish to avoid re-inventing the wheel?  If you read Veblen, you will save yourself a lot of time and effort.

How Financial Criminalization Crashed the Economy, and the Culprits Got Off Scot-Free

Charles Ferguson, Director of the Wall Street documentary 'Inside Job'; Author of the forthcoming book, 'Predator Nation'  05/23/2012

It is no exaggeration to say that since the 1980s, much of the American (and global) financial sector has become criminalized, creating an industry culture that tolerates or even encourages systematic fraud. The behavior that caused the mortgage bubble and financial crisis was a natural outcome and continuation of this pattern, rather than some kind of economic accident.

It is important to understand that this behavior really is seriously criminal. We are not talking about neglecting some bureaucratic formality. We are talking about deliberate concealment of financial transactions that aided terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferation, and large-scale tax evasion; assisting in concealment of criminal assets and activities by others; and directly committing frauds that substantially worsened the worst financial bubbles and crises since the Depression.

None of this conduct was punished in any significant way. On November 7, 2011, the New York Times published an article based on its own review of major banks' settlements of SEC lawsuits since 1996. The Times' analysis found fifty-one cases in which major banks had settled cases involving securities fraud, after having previously been caught violating the same law, and then promising the SEC not to do so again. The Times' list, furthermore, covered only SEC securities fraud cases; it did not include any criminal cases, private lawsuits by victims, cases filed by state attorneys general, or any cases of bribery, money laundering, tax evasion, or illegal asset concealment -- all areas in which the banks have numerous and major violations. In Predator Nation, I provide detailed, well-documented accounts of behavior ranging from assisting Enron's frauds (Citigroup, Merrill Lynch), to fraudulently exploiting the Internet bubble (most of the major investment banks), to using for-profit colleges to exploit government student loan programs (Goldman Sachs), to assisting in money laundering and tax evasion on a large scale (at least eleven banks including UBS, Barclay's, and Lloyds), to using bribery and artificially complex derivatives to destroy the finances of a county government (JP Morgan Chase), to profiting from Bernard Madoff even while strongly suspecting him to be a fraud (JP Morgan Chase, UBS).

Total fines for all these cases combined appear to be far less than 1 percent of financial sector profits and bonuses during the same period. There have been very few prosecutions and no criminal convictions of large U.S. financial institutions or their senior executives. Where individuals not linked to major banks have committed similar offenses, they have been treated far more harshly.

Given this background, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the mortgage bubble and financial crisis were facilitated not only by deregulation but also by the prior twenty years' tolerance of large scale financial crime. First, the absence of prosecution gradually led to a deeply embedded cultural acceptance of unethical and criminal behavior in finance. And second, it generated a sense of personal impunity; bankers contemplating criminal actions were no longer deterred by threat of prosecution. more

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