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How to Put Bankers Back on the Golf Course, Where They’ll Do Less Harm

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

It used to be that your friendly local banker would abide by the three, six, three rule.

The banker would borrow money at three percent, loan it out at six percent, and be at the golf course by three in the afternoon.

William Quirk is a Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Quirk says – bring back three six three.

“I would put them back on the golf course at three p.m. – where they are not going to be doing that much harm,” Quirk told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview.

Quirk has an simple solution to the financial crisis roiling the capital markets.

Treat synthetic derivatives for what they are – gambling.

And make them illegal.

Banks would stop being casinos.

And would become lending institutions once again.

Three six three.

Quirk says that prior to 2000, synthetic derivatives were in fact illegal.

But as one of his last acts in office, President Bill Clinton signed the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000.

That law pre-empted state law enforcement against derivatives.

State gambling laws no longer applied.

Neither did state bucket shop laws.

The result?

Derivatives boomed.

According to Quirk, the derivatives market is now a $600 trillion market – about ten times the entire world economy – which stands at $66 trillion.

Quirk would repeal the 2000 legislation that gave derivatives immunity from state prosecution.

“Repeal the immunity they were granted,” Quirk says. “Let’s see where that takes us. That would make it subject to the state laws against bucket shops and against gambling. Take away their legal immunity and let them be dealt with with state laws dealing with gambling.”

“There is a place in our world for Southwest Airlines to buy a futures contract on their fuel oil,” Quirk says. “But that all can be taken care of on the Chicago exchanges. We’ve had future contracts going back into the 18th century with farmers.”

“But you are not going to get a situation that’s ten times the world’s economy. There’s no difficulty dealing with ordinary futures contracts. Those don’t present any danger. They are easily regulated on the Chicago exchanges. You don’t need a casino to deal with Southwest’s fuel oil price.”

Quirk says that the financial regulation bill currently moving through the Congress is just window dressing.

“I would repeal the immunity,” Quirk says. “Bring back Glass Steagall. Glass Steagall limited size by limiting function.”

“You would have to reinstate Glass Steagall. And you would have to break up the five biggest banks.”

“Everybody knows that if Goldman has trouble tomorrow, the government will bail them out again.”

“The talk about getting rid of too big to fail, absent changing the size of the big banks, is just nonsense. If you want to be serious about too big to fail, you need to break up the big banks. Otherwise, it’s not worth the paper it is written on.”

“The big banks have had their own way since 1990,” Quirk said. “Anything they’ve wanted they have gotten. Nobody has had the guts to take them on.”

“So, yes, I’m in the it’s just window dressing camp. For me to move out of that camp, you would have to see different people being put in charge.”

What are the possibilities for a populist political response to what is going on?

“I don’t think they are very great,” Quirk says. “The political system seems unresponsive. There is a tremendous amount of public anger about this. But this recent
1,500 page bill they are proposing isn’t going to change anything. No one even proposed going back to Glass Steagall. Breaking them up isn’t being taken seriously.”

“If you polled the general public, I believe you would find they would favor bankers being bankers, going back to making loans and not being involved in synthetic betting. But the political system is not responding to the popular feeling.”

“And amazingly so. We are almost two years into this thing. And absolutely nothing has changed. And that just reflects a political system that’s busted.”

Are you saying that Carl Levin’s hearings on Goldman Sachs was just a dog and pony show?

“This was the least you can do. Nobody has read the 1,500 pages of the legislation. But it looks like a bunch of new regulatory stuff. But the big banks will deal with that without any problem.”

Then why are the big banks fighting it?

“You have to say – Oh, they’re killing me. To justify your lobbying fees. And you have to go along with the gag. That you are really being treated badly. But it’s a fixed fight. The serious solution is not on the table.”

RUSSELL MOKHIBER is editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter.

[For a complete transcript of the Interview with William Quirk, see 24 Corporate Crime Reporter 18(13), May 3, 2010, print edition only.]

WORDS THAT STICK

 

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Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

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