FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Hubris of the Wall Street Gang

by DEAN BAKER

Many highly respected Washington types have been running around for the last three years yelling that because of its large budget deficits, the United States is Greece. We learned last week that the immediate danger is the United States being Cyprus.

As we now know, Cyprus is a small island country with a financial sector that has run amok, following in the footsteps of Ireland and Iceland. The assets of its banks were eight times the size of the country’s economy.

This meant that when the banks’ big bets went bad, there was no way Cyprus’ government could afford the price of the bailout. As a result, Cyprus was forced to go hat in hand to the European Central Bank and accept whatever offer was put on the table. However the Cyprus crisis is finally resolved, it is not likely to be a pretty picture for the citizens of Cyprus.

As the Cyprus crisis was unfolding last week we also got to see the report of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on JP Morgan’s losses at its “London Whale” trading division. The report chronicles a series of bad bets on derivatives that were compounded by traders doubling down their stakes. They concealed the size of their losses both to bank officers and regulators. The end result was a $6 billion loss.

JP Morgan is a huge bank and can swallow $6 billion in losses, but the incident showed as clearly as possible that the Dodd-Frank reforms are not working. The London Whale’s losing trades were all done in the Dodd-Frank era. The bill’s provisions did not prevent JP Morgan from making massive bets and misleading regulators about their nature and the risks involved.

If the regulators were not able to catch the London Whale’s huge gambles before they went bad, why would we think that they will catch the next crap shoot from the Wall Street gang? It’s time that we looked at this seriously; the regulators lack either the will or competence to rein in the big banks. The big banks are going to get away with everything they want, regardless of the provisions of Dodd-Frank.

If the big banks are too big to regulate and, according to Attorney General Holder, too big to prosecute, then the only sensible course is to break them up. There have been some promising developments in this area.

At the top of the list is Elizabeth Warren’s election to the Senate. Senator Warren has already made it clear that she will use her seat on the Banking Committee to try to hold the banks and bank regulators accountable. The other important development is that Warren seems to have an ally in Louisiana Senator David Vitter.

At first glance this might seem an unlikely alliance. Warren is clearly on the left side of the Democratic Party, and Vitter is to the right of center of a very conservative Republican Party. But Vitter apparently takes his belief in the market seriously enough to realize that there is no place for too-big-to-fail banks in a free market. The point is straightforward, if a bank’s creditors know that the government will cover its losses, the bank is gambling with the taxpayers’ money, not its own.

If there is ever going to be enough political force to break up the big banks it will have to come from this sort of left-right coalition that moves in toward the center. As it stands, the leadership of both parties is too closely tied to the financial sector to take any steps that fundamentally threaten their interests. This has nothing to do with political philosophy; the leadership of both parties is owned by the financial industry. However if the outsiders in both parties can build up enough popular outrage over Wall Street’s shenanigans, the party leadership will follow.

There is precedent for this sort of left-right coalition. In 2009 Representative Alan Grayson, one of the most progressive members of the House, joined with Ron Paul, one of the most conservative Republicans, to co-sponsor a bill calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve Board by the Government Accountability Office.

Over the next year, the bill gradually got more co-sponsors until eventually an overwhelming majority of members had signed on. It was difficult to see why the operations of such an important government agency should be exempted from normal oversight. As a result of this pressure an amendment was slipped onto the Dodd-Frank bill that required the Fed to release the details of the $16 trillion in loans that were made through its special lending facilities.

It will take the same sort of dynamic to create the political space where the big banks can be broken up. Of course this effort will be much harder. It means pulling the big banks away from the public trough, not just releasing some embarrassing information.

We can also expect the elite media to provide the same sort of condescension and misinformation in the battle to break up the banks as they did in the battle over the Fed audit. Proponents of downsizing the banks will be ridiculed, regardless of their expertise in finance. The big banks will be given every opportunity to push their line, in spite of its absurdity and the lack of supporting evidence.

It will be a tough fight. On its face it seems that the Wall Street crew is invincible. But the London Whale episode and the silly efforts at cover-up should provide some grounds for confidence. These people can be pretty brazen in their contempt for the law and the general public. This arrogance on the part of the Wall Street gang is exactly what we need to give democracy a chance.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy and False Profits: Recoverying From the Bubble Economy.

This article originally appeared on The Guardian.

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail