They’re back. Actually, they never left; they just laid low while the heat of political anger blew over.
They are the schemers and scammers of Wall Street who devised the Phantasmagoric Money-From-Nothing Good Times Machine that was fueled by indecipherable derivatives and other financial fairy dust. If you’re presently stuck in hard economic times, you have them to thank, for it was their hocus-pocus that — poof! — imploded our economy in 2008.
Responding to public outrage, President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress passed a reform bill last year that tightened the rules on these tricksters. But now — with Wall-Street-hugging Republicans running the House and President Obama himself turning into Wall Street’s best buddy — the schemers and scammers are demanding that Washington loosen those pesky rules so they can restart that Good Times Machine for their own fun and profit.
For example, the biggest banks are pressing hard for the Treasury Department to exempt a derivatives game called “foreign-exchange swaps” from any regulation. These gamble on the ups and downs of foreign currencies. Not only are they explosively risky, they’re massive, with some $4 trillion being bet on them every day.
A hiccup in this speculative game can ruin the day of a whole country. But a handful of Wall Street giants rake in about $9 billion a year handling these high-rolling bets, and they don’t want the public even seeing what they’re doing.
“Don’t regulate us,” they insist, “trust us.” After all, they say, this currency game is the one derivatives market that did not crash in 2008.
Not so fast, slick. The only reason the market for foreign-exchange swaps didn’t crash is that the Federal Reserve poured more than $5 trillion into foreign central banks that year to prop it up.
Such runaway greed by Wall Street is why change is so desperately needed. The Powers That Be claim that it’s unreasonable to regulate Wall Street. However, as George Bernard Shaw noted a century ago, “All change comes from the power of unreasonable people.”
I think Shaw would agree to one small addendum to his sage observation, which is that such people are considered unreasonable only by the entrenched powers that always oppose change.
Let me offer two examples of people today who deserve our applause for rankling the establishment and, in turn, enduring its furious abuse: Sheila Bair and Elizabeth Warren. Both are daring to bring a stronger consumer and public-interest voice into the closed, cliquish and often self-serving world of banking.
Bair heads the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which gives a big helping hand to banks by insuring their customers’ deposits. The FDIC is also supposed to help consumers and taxpayers by regulating banks. And — my goodness — unlike some of her predecessors, she has chosen to do both jobs, including providing tough enforcement of regulations to prevent bank failures, foster real competition and deter banker finagling.
At a recent meeting, financial chieftains showed their appreciation for her work (and their ugly side) with a cascade of catcalls, guffaws, snorts and boos as she spoke.
Booed by bankers. I’m sure that’s unpleasant at the moment — but what a badge of honor!
Likewise, Warren is under constant attack by Wall Street bosses and the flock of Republican Congress critters who shamelessly serve them. She helped create and is now setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a watchdog over banker abuses. To show their gratitude, the bankers got their GOP mad-dogs to slash the bureau’s budget and simply eliminate Warren’s salary.
Click here to add your voice in support of these two “unreasonable” women.
— Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.