Why Is Banking a Criminal Industry? Because Its Crimes Go Unpunished
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Consider just this month's news in financial services.
First, Barclay's has been manipulating the Libor, the main interest rate upon which most other interest rates and financial transactions are based, since 2005. Moreover, Barclay's traders were colluding with traders in many other banks to assist them in manipulating the Libor too, so that they could all profit from their bets on it.
Second, JP Morgan Chase is having a really great month. Recent reports describe how it is resisting Federal subpoenas related to price-fixing in U.S. electricity markets. It is also accused (by former employees among others) of deliberately inflating the performance of its investment funds to obtain business. And finally, JP Morgan's failed " London whale" trade, which has now cost over $5 billion, is being investigated to determine whether the loss was initially concealed from regulators and the public.
Third, HSBC is paying a fine because it allowed hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars of money laundering by rogue states and sanctioned firms, including some related to terrorist activities and Iran's nuclear efforts. But HSBC is only one of at least 12 banks now known to have tolerated, and in some cases aggressively courted, money laundering by rogue states, terrorist organizations, corrupt dictators, and major drug cartels over the last decade. Others include Barclay's, Lloyds, Credit Suisse, and Wachovia (now part of Wells Fargo). Several of the banks created special handbooks on how to evade surveillance, created special business units to handle money laundering, and actively suppressed whistleblowers who warned of drug cartel activities.
Fourth, a new private lawsuit cites documents indicating that Morgan Stanley successfully pressured rating agencies into inflating the ratings of mortgage-backed securities it issued during the housing bubble.
Fifth, Visa and Mastercard have just agreed to pay $7 billion to settle a private antitrust case filed by thousands of merchants, who alleged that Visa and Mastercard colluded to fix fees and terms of service.
Just another month in financial services. Is it unusual? No, it's not. If we go back just a little further, we have UBS, HSBC, Julius Baer, and other banks actively marketing tax evasion services to wealthy U.S. and European citizens. We have senior executives of several banks (including JP Morgan Chase and UBS) strongly suspecting that Bernard Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme, but deciding to make money from him rather than turn him in. And then, of course, we have the financial crisis and everything that led to it. As I show in great detail in my book Predator Nation, we now possess overwhelming evidence of massive securities fraud, accounting fraud, perjury, and criminal Sarbanes-Oxley violations by mortgage lenders, investment banks, and credit insurers (including senior executives of Countrywide, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, AIG, and Lehman Brothers) during the housing bubble that caused the financial crisis. If we go back to the late 1990s, we have the massively fraudulent hyping of Internet stocks, and several banks (including Merrill Lynch and Citigroup) actively aiding Enron in committing its frauds.
So, July 2012 really isn't abnormal at all. The reason for this is very simple. Over the past two decades, the financial services industry has become a pervasively unethical and highly criminal industry, with massive fraud tolerated or even encouraged by senior management. But how did that happen?
Well, deregulation helped, of course. But something else was far more important. It is the one critical factor that unites all of the episodes cited above, including those of this month. This critical unifying factor is the total number of criminal prosecutions of major firms and senior executives as a result of all of these crimes combined.