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Saturday, March 03, 2012

"Will Wall Street Ever Face Justice?"

The chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Phil Angelides, wonders if there will ever be a thorough investigation and prosecution of "the financial assault on our country":

Will Wall Street Ever Face Justice?, by Phil Angelides, Commentary, NY Times: Last week, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. proclaimed in a speech that when it comes to fighting financial fraud, the Obama administration’s “record of success has been nothing less than historic.” Such self-congratulation is not only premature, but it also reveals a troubling lack of understanding about what is required to win the war against financial wrongdoing.
Four years after the disintegration of the financial system, Americans have, rightfully, a gnawing feeling that justice has not been served. Claims of financial fraud against companies like Citigroup and Bank of America have been settled for pennies on the dollar, with no admission of wrongdoing. Executives who ran companies that made, packaged and sold trillions of dollars in toxic mortgages and mortgage-backed securities remain largely unscathed.
Meager resources have been applied to investigate the financial assault on our country, which wiped away trillions of dollars in household wealth and has resulted in 24 million people jobless or underemployed. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission ... was given a budget of $9.8 million — roughly one-seventh of the budget of Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations did its work on the financial crisis with only a dozen or so Congressional staff members.
Despite their limited budgets, both inquiries turned over rocks and exposed disturbing financial practices, and both entities referred potential violations of law to the Justice Department. The final reports from the two investigations were completed last year, but the resources that were needed to dig deep beneath those rocks — or the rocks turned over by private litigants or other investigatory efforts — weren’t mobilized. ...
The belated creation of a Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, led by federal officials along with New York State’s aggressive attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, offers hope that the needed surge of investigation and enforcement may finally be initiated. But for it to succeed, the Obama administration must give the group the wherewithal to do so. ...
No one should seek or condone prosecutions for revenge or political purposes. But laws need to be enforced to deter future malfeasance. Just as important, the American people need to believe that a thorough investigation has been conducted; that our judicial system has been fair to all, regardless of wealth and power; and that wrongs have been righted.

In addition to the need to make those who chose to violate the rules face the consequences of their decisions, a thorough investigation would also help regulators understand where the breakdowns occurred, and thus provide insight into how to better protect the financial system from a repeat performance. Unfortunately, I don't think that there will ever be the kind of investigation that is needed.

    Posted by on Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 01:08 AM in Economics, Financial System, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (39)


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