The news from the world of finance has been incredibly depressing of late, as the big Wall Street banks keep winning round after round in their battles with regulators. The flurry of deals, which in part were closed pre-Jan 1st to allow the banks to clean up their books before the end of the year, were just one big win for the banks after another: the $10 billion Bank of America deal with Fannie Mae; the deal between 2 regulatory agencies and 10 major banks to come up with $3.3 billion dollars for 3.8 million homeowners; the international Basel 3 capitulation caving into everything the big international banks were asking for on regulation. Compared with the size of the crimes, the number of people who got badly hurt, and the amount of money these banks made off the fraudulent deals they committed, this money is pocket change, an insult to the millions of hard working families who have had their lives ripped apart by bank fraud.
Now even the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the one agency which has been rightly lauded for fighting for consumers on other issues since it got created due to Elizabeth’s Warren’s work, has caved into Wall Street demands on a new rule they just issued relating to mortgages and given the big banks a major edge against homeowners in legal issues going forward. People at Americans for Financial Reform and the other groups working on these issues tell me they are appalled by these new rules.
The best hope for investigating and prosecuting fraudulent bankers has been in the inter-agency task force co-chaired by NY AG Eric Schneiderman, but the DOJ has refused to give the task force the staff that it needed, and as a result things have been moving slower than molasses, and it is not at all clear at this point whether anything is going to come of it.
Media figures enamored of Wall Street think all this is a swell thing. WP writer Neil Irwin thinks it’s terrific because “every dollar a bank holds as part of its liquidity buffer is a dollar they are not lending out…as a loan to build a factory.” This was Obama’s argument in his first State Of The Union speech, where he talked about how he hated to bail out the banks but only by helping them would they be able to start making loans again so that the economy would recover. It has pretty much been Geithner’s entire philosophy while at Treasury: anything that gets in the way of the big banks’ ability to make money will hurt the economy. The problem is that while the big banks have been swimming in money most of the last 4 years, making record profits and handing out record bonuses to execs in some years, the rest of the economy is flat. Small businesses are still having trouble getting loans, factory start-ups have been slow, housing remains weak even with its recent uptick, and in case nobody has noticed in a DC obsessed by deficits, unemployment is still appallingly high.