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Wall St's Latest Shameless Ploy to Fleece You

The industry's effort to overturn new regulations could push public anger past the point of no return.
 
 
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Wall Street is its own worst enemy. It should have welcomed new financial regulation as a means of restoring public trust. Instead, it’s busily shredding new regulations and making the public more distrustful than ever.

The Street’s biggest lobbying groups have just filed a lawsuit against the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, seeking to overturn its new rule limiting speculative trading.

For years Wall Street has speculated like mad in futures markets – food, oil, other commodities – causing prices to fluctuate wildly. The Street makes bundles from these gyrations, but they have raised costs for consumers.

In other words, a small portion of what you and I pay for food and energy has been going into the pockets of Wall Street. It’s just another hidden redistribution from the middle class to the rich.

The new Dodd-Frank law authorizes the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to limit such speculative trading. The commission considered 15,000 comments, largely from the Street. It compromised on key provisions. It weighed the benefits to the public of the new regulation against its costs to the Street. It did numerous economic and policy analyses. It even agreed to delay enforcement of the new rule for at least a year.

But this wasn’t enough for the Street. The new regulation would still put a crimp in Wall Street’s profits.

So the Street is going to court. What’s its argument? The commission’s cost-benefit analysis wasn’t adequate.

At first blush it’s a clever ploy. There’s no clear legal standard for an “adequate” weighing of costs and benefits of financial regulations, since both are so difficult to measure. And putting the question into the laps of federal judges gives the Street a huge tactical advantage because the Street has almost an infinite amount of money to hire so-called “experts” (some academics are not exactly prostitutes but they have their price) who will use elaborate methodologies to show benefits have been exaggerated and costs underestimated.

It’s not the first time the Street has used this ploy. Last year, when the Securities and Exchange Commission tried to implement a Dodd-Frank policy making it easier for shareholder to nominate company directors, Wall Street sued the SEC. It alleged the commission’s cost-benefit analysis for the new rule was inadequate. Last July, a federal appeals court – inundated by Wall Street lawyers and hired-gun “experts” – agreed with the Street.

So much for shareholders nominating company directors.

Obviously, government should weigh the costs against the benefits of anything it does. But when it comes to the regulation of Wall Street, one overriding cost doesn’t make it into any individual weighing: The public’s mounting distrust of the entire economic system, generated by the Street’s repeated abuse of the public’s trust.

Wall Street’s shenanigans have convinced a large portion of America that the game is rigged.

Yet capitalism depends on trust. Without trust, people avoid even sensible economic risks. They also begin trading in gray markets and black markets. They think that if the big guys cheat in big ways, they might as well begin cheating in small ways. And they’re easy prey for political demagogues with fast tongues and vacuous solutions.

Tally up these costs and it’s a whopper.

Wall Street has blanketed America in a miasma of cynicism. Most Americans assume the reason the Street got its taxpayer-funded bailout without strings in the first place was because of its political clout. That must be why the banks didn’t have to renegotiate the mortgages of Americans – who, because of the economic collapse brought on by the Street’s excesses, are still under water and many are drowning.

 
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