10 Things to Know About Wall Street's Rapacious Attack on America
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7. None of those who caused the crash have been prosecuted: Raj Rajaratnam, the hedge fund billionaire, is going to the hoosegow for insider trading. Bernie Madoff is in prison for life for his Ponzi scheme. And about 40 others have pleaded guilty to insider trading crimes. Yet none of these scoundrels, as immoral as they may be, had much to do with the financial crash. They didn’t peddle toxic mortgage-related securities. They didn’t push predatory loans. They didn’t rate garbage securities as if they were gold. None of these perps pumped up the housing bubble. Those who did are still roaming free, financially armed and dangerous.
8. Wall Street is much too big and its salaries are much too high: The financial sector is supposed to be an intermediary that turns our savings into productive investments. It’s not supposed to be a casino and it’s not supposed to dwarf the rest of the productive economy. But after years of deregulatory foolishness, it has metastasized to destructive levels. From the 1930s until the mid-1970s, financial sector employees earned the same as those in other sectors, relative to their skills and experience. That’s the way it should be. But since we embarked on the long march of financial deregulation and tax breaks for the super-rich, people working in the financial sector have seen their incomes skyrocket compared to everyone else. The bigger that gap, the more danger we face. And unless we build a massive populist uprising, it won’t change.
9. Wall Street still owns the regulators: When you put too much money in the hands of the few and when you deregulate finance, you get a financial casino. That’s what happened in the years leading up to the 1929 crash, and it happened again in 2008. During the New Deal we regulated the tar out of finance, ending their reign of speculative terror. And it worked for nearly a quarter of a century as financial crises virtually disappeared. Since financial deregulation reappeared over the last 30 years, there have been over 180 financial crises around the world. So you would think after 2008, we’d be back to reining in the bankers. But, no…our leaders are afraid to stifle “financial innovation” (See next point.) The Dodd-Frank bill is weak and getting weaker, thanks to intensive Wall Street lobbying. High government officials still believe that Wall Street can lead the nation forward. The kids are telling us that we should shut down the casinos now. Right again.
10. Financial innovation is a joke: Washington genuflects before the gods of financial innovation: the adjustable no-money down mortgages with resetting teaser rates, the synthetic collateralized debt obligations that turn garbage mortgages into AAA securities, the credit default swaps that are financial insurance policies without regulation, the nanosecond trading programs that flip millions of stocks per second while milking slower investors, and the myriad of ways to make enormous financial bets using little or none of your own money. They tremble at the thought of whispering anything that might stifle these highly profitable Wall Street inventions. They are wowed by trading measured in nanoseconds, by the alphabet soup of securities, by the dark pools of financial trading and most of all by financial billionaires and their lobbyists. But to paraphrase former fed chair Paul Volcker, the only real financial innovation in the last 25 years is the ATM machine. The rest are simply gambling games designed to enrich Wall Street's elites who pocket the winnings and pawn off the losses on us. The protesters sense the game is rigged. It is.