December 30, 2011

Wall Street and Crony Capitalism

What strikes me most as I look back at 2011 is the pervasiveness of corruption among America's ruling class, the insider trading by the permanent politicians and the connected crony capitalists who rig the rules.

Michael Thomas on The Big Lie

As 2011 slithers to its end, none of the major problems that led to the crisis point three years ago have really been solved. Bank balance sheets still reek. Europe day by day becomes a financial black hole, with matter from the periphery being sucked toward the center until the vortex itself collapses. The Street and its ministries of propaganda have fallen back on a Big Lie as old as capitalism itself: that all that has gone wrong has been government’s fault. This time, however, I don’t think the argument that “Washington ate my homework” is going to work. This time, a firestorm is going to explode about the Street’s head—and about time, too.
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I have lived what now, at 75, is starting to feel like a long life. If anyone asks me what has been the great American story of my lifetime, I have a ready answer. It is the corruption, money-based, that has settled like some all-enveloping excremental mist on the landscape of our hopes, that has permeated every nook of any institution or being that has real influence on the way we live now. Sixty years ago, if you had asked me, on the basis of all that I had been taught, whether I thought this condition of general rot was possible in this country, I would have told you that you were nuts. And I would have been very wrong. What has happened in this country has made a lie of my boyhood

Gonzalo Lira says Nine weeks after its bankruptcy, the general public still hasn’t quite realized the implications of the MF Global scandal.

Now there are several extremely serious aspects to the MF Global case: Specifically, how their customers were shut out of their brokerage accounts for over a week following the bankruptcy, which made it impossible for those customers to sell out of their positions, and thus caused them to lose serious money; and of course how MF Global was more adept than Mandrake the Magician at making money disappear—about $1 billion, in fact, which still hasn’t turned up. These are quite serious issues which merit prolonged discussion, investigation, prosecution, and ultimately jailtime.

But for now, I want to discuss one narrow aspect of the MF Global bankruptcy: How authorities (mis)handled the bankruptcy—either willfully or out of incompetence—which allowed customer’s money to be stolen so as to make JPMorgan whole.
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Thus these 40,000 MF Global customers had their money stolen—there’s no polite way to characterize what happened. And this theft was not carried out by MF Global—it was carried out by the authorities who were charged with handling the firm’s bankruptcy.

These 40,000 customers were not Big Money types—they were farmers who had accounts to hedge their crops, individuals owning gold
.....—in short, ordinary investors. Ordinary people—and they got screwed by the regulators, for the sake of protecting JPMorgan and other big fry who had exposure to MF Global.

Repo Men by Kevin Williamson

What’s worse is that much of official Washington is looking at Wall Street and asking the same question. The answer: Easy. If Wall Street has done pretty well by investing in Washington, the more despair-inducingly germane fact is that Washington has done pretty well by investing in Wall Street. A catalogue of recent congressional insider-trading, self-dealing, IPO shenanigans, and inexplicably good investment luck would fill an entire volume, and in fact it has: The book has the Tea Party–bait title Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison, by Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institution. That’s a lot of title for a fairly slim book (176 pages of reportage, plus end notes), but, despite its relatively slender dimensions, it cost me an entire night’s sleep: I spent half the night reading it in a single sitting and the other half having nightmares about it. It’s the most offensive and disturbing thing I’ve read since sampling the oeuvre of the Marquis de Sade as an undergraduate.
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At the risk of oversimplifying it,” one Wall Street insider explains, “imagine a bank went bankrupt. Then the regulators came in and cracked open all the customers’ safe-deposit boxes, even though they knew for certain that none of the contents belonged to the bank. Then they tossed those assets into the pile for the creditors to pick through and told the box holders to get in line as well. That’s what folks are saying is happening here. And in a situation like that, who wants a safe-deposit box?”
Posted by Jill Fallon at December 30, 2011 9:06 AM | Permalink