Guest Post: Another Nobel Economist Says We Have to Prosecute Fraud Or Else the Economy Won’t Recover

Washington’s Blog

As economists such as William Black and James Galbraith have repeatedly said, we cannot solve the economic crisis unless we throw the criminals who committed fraud in jail.

And Nobel prize winning economist George Akerlof has demonstrated that failure to punish white collar criminals – and instead bailing them out- creates incentives for more economic crimes and further destruction of the economy in the future. See this, this and this.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz just agreed. As Stiglitz told Yahoo’s Daily Finance on October 20th:

This is a really important point to understand from the point of view of our society. The legal system is supposed to be the codification of our norms and beliefs, things that we need to make our system work. If the legal system is seen as exploitative, then confidence in our whole system starts eroding. And that’s really the problem that’s going on.

***

A lot of the predatory practices in automobile loans are going to be able to be continued. Why is it OK to engage in bad lending in automobiles and not in the mortgage market? Is there any principle? We all know the answer to that. No, there’s no principle. It’s money. It’s campaign contributions, lobbying, revolving door, all of those kinds of things

***

The system is designed to actually encourage that kind of thing, even with the fines [referring to former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozillo, who recently paid tens of millions of dollars in fines, a small fraction of what he actually earned, because he earned hundreds of millions.].

***

I know so many people who say it’s an outrage that we had more accountability in the ’80’s with the S&L crisis than we are having today. Yeah, we fine them, and what is the big lesson? Behave badly, and the government might take 5% or 10% of what you got in your ill-gotten gains, but you’re still sitting home pretty with your several hundred million dollars that you have left over after paying fines that look very large by ordinary standards but look small compared to the amount that you’ve been able to cash in.

So the system is set so that even if you’re caught, the penalty is just a small number relative to what you walk home with.

The fine is just a cost of doing business. It’s like a parking fine. Sometimes you make a decision to park knowing that you might get a fine because going around the corner to the parking lot takes you too much time.

***

I think we ought to go do what we did in the S&L [crisis] and actually put many of these guys in prison. Absolutely. These are not just white-collar crimes or little accidents. There were victims. That’s the point. There were victims all over the world.

***

So do we have any confidence that these guys who got us into the mess have really changed their minds? Actually we have pretty [good] confidence that they have not. I’ve seen some speeches where they said, “Nothing was really wrong. We didn’t get things quite right. But our understanding of the issues is pretty sound.” If they think that, then we really are in a sorry mess.

***

There are many aspects of [deterring people from committing crime]. Economists focus on the whole notion of incentives. People have an incentive sometimes to behave badly, because they can make more money if they can cheat. If our economic system is going to work then we have to make sure that what they gain when they cheat is offset by a system of penalties.

And that’s why, for instance, in our antitrust law, we often don’t catch people when they behave badly, but when we do we say there are treble damages. You pay three times the amount of the damage that you do. That’s a strong deterrent. Unfortunately, what we’ve been doing now, and more recently in these financial crimes, is settling for fractions – fractions! – of the direct damage, and even a smaller fraction of the total societal damage. That is to say, the financial sector really brought down the global economy and if you include all of that collateral damage, it’s really already in the trillions of dollars.

But there’s a broader sense of collateral damage that I think that has not really been taken on board. And that is confidence in our legal system, in our rule of law, in our system of justice. When you say the Pledge of Allegiance you say, with “justice for all.” People aren’t sure that we have justice for all. Somebody is caught for a minor drug offense, they are sent to prison for a very long time. And yet, these so-called white-collar crimes, which are not victimless, almost none of these guys, almost none of them, go to prison.

***

Let me give you another example of where the legal system has gotten very much out of whack, and which contributed to the financial crisis.

In 2005, we passed a bankruptcy reform. It was a reform pushed by the banks. It was designed to allow them to make bad loans to people to who didn’t understand what was going on, and then basically choke them. Squeeze them dry. And we should have called it, “the new indentured servitude law.” Because that’s what it did.

Let me just tell you how bad it is. I don’t think Americans understand how bad it is. It becomes really very difficult for individuals to discharge their debt. The basic principle in the past in America was people should have the right for a fresh start. People make mistakes. Especially when they’re preyed upon. And so you should be able to start afresh again. Get a clean slate. Pay what you can and start again. Now if you do it over and over again that’s a different thing. But at least when there are these lenders preying on you should be able to get a fresh start.

But they [the banks] said, “No, no, you can’t discharge your debt,” or you can’t discharge it very easily.

***

This is indentured servitude. And we criticize other countries for having indentured servitude of this kind, bonded labor. But in America we instituted this in 2005 with almost no discussion of the consequences. But what it did was encourage the banks to engage in even worse lending practices.

***

The banks want to pretend that they did not make bad loans. They don’t want to come into reality. The fact that they were very instrumental in changing the accounting standards, so that loans that are impaired where people are not paying back what they owe, are treated as if they are just as good as a well-performing mortgage.

So the whole strategy of the banks has been to hide the losses, muddle through and get the government to keep interest rates really low.

***

The result of this is, as long as we keep up this strategy, it’s going to be a long time before the economy recovers ….

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About George Washington

George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander… http://www.washingtonsblog.com

77 comments

  1. jacke

    Very important post. The problem, of course, is that the bankers and lawyers who engage in this type of fraud have so much money behind them that those who are taken in their con games are put into bankruptcy, their businesses destroyed and hundreds of jobs lost. The courts have allowed foreclosures on business loans “at will,” giving the green light to banks to make loans that they know they cannot fund adequately. Construction projects across this nation were shut down in mid-stream, some up to 90% complete, simply because the banks could do so without cause, allowing the banks’ foreclosure attorneys to make deals with insiders and their friends to buy the notes at pennies on the dollar. The original owners were stripped of everything they owned, put into bankruptcy, their subcontractors left with mechanics’ liens suits that they could only end up settling for roughly the amount of their legal fees, and multiple businesses and smaller banks left holding the bag for unpaid accounts receivables. Access to the legal system is denied by lack of funds and by the limiting factors inherent in FDIC takeover of failed bank assets. Top-notch lawyers who could win such cases against a corrupt bank and its officials will not take cases on contingency when they know a win on principle will not generate any money or enough money to pay the cost of pursuing the lawsuit, no matter what the judgment.
    The fraud and corruption by these lawyers with very close ties to the court system in their practice areas are nearly impossible to prove, largely because of undocumented verbal fraud, attorney-client privilege, confidentiality, and such special rules that cover up attorney theft and misconduct.
    Secretary Geithner’s statement, when handing out TARP money to the big banks, that it was to be used only for NEW loans, not EXISTING ones, gave new impetus to failing regional banks to cover up fraud by moving their best and most valuable loan assets into personal hands, writing losses off the books at shareholder expense, and taking taxpayer money to rebuild their capital accounts.
    The lack of accountability and the lack of enforcement of all aspects of contract law by the courts and government regulation has created major white collar crime that dwarfs the Madoff crimes and goes undetected and unpunished.

    1. Germa Nmesele

      Jacke that is the most blatant example i have heard in this mess about what Smith talks about in Econned, ‘Bankruptcy for Profit’.

      The lawyer thing reminds me of ‘Confidence Game’ when Bill Ackman gets hauled in front of the government, he tries to get a specialist lawyer to come help him on some finer points. None of them will. Why? Their firms are too closely linked to, either the ratings agencies or the monolines, cant remember which.

    2. i on the ball patriot

      Good comment!

      Stiglitz is in the old fashioned Profit Driven Vanilla Greed camp and he now joins the Vanilla Greed lament against the forces of the newer Control Driven Pernicious Greed faction — those elite champions of the noble lie that want a two tier ruler and ruled herd thinned world with no middle class.

      Your comment highlights what the Vanilla Greed folks are all up against — the trickle up institutional gangsterism is increasing, not only in scamerica but globally, as oppression and exploitation trickle down. The proof is always in the pudding. The rule of law is now a blatant scam.

      Vanilla Greed reaps what it has sown. Who will prevail?

      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  2. Toby

    The richest irony here is that there is no such thing as a Nobel Prize for economics. There is so much fraud around it’s now impossible to look in any direction without seeing it. This is decadence run amok.

    1. DB Smith

      I’m often a bit pedantic, too, but I have to point out that, although the correct title of the prize is: “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize”, it’s a “Nobel Prize” in spirit.

      According to the Nobel Prize website:

      “The Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences according to the same principles as for the Nobel Prizes that have been awarded since 1901.”

      Bleating that the economics prize isn’t a “real” Nobel is just that: bleating.

        1. Toby

          I feel obliged to point out that whatever the ‘spirit’ or otherwise of the ‘Nobel’ award I am deeply suspicious of economics, and will remain so until it begins to take sustainability seriously, an undertaking which includes embracing the laws of physics, a large portion of ecology, psychology, sociology, and requires proper adherence to the scientific method generally. As I currently see it, economics is the modern jargon-discipline of the high priests of the current Money Power or monetary system, which benefits the few at the cost of the many.

          There, that’s said.

          1. davidgmills

            I am also deeply suspicious of economics, and not just because it is the dismal science.

            I am suspicious of it because until 1913 there had been a hundred and thirty year holy war between the government and the private banks as to which one would issue the currency. The banks finally won the hundred and thirty years war with the passage of the Federal Reserve Act, and it is the banks who control the money supply now, not like the government did when Lincoln issued “greenbacks” to finance the civil war.

            When the government could print the money, it didn’t have to borrow it from the banks. If it needed to build a road, it just printed the money, hired a contractor and paid the contractor. Given the choice, if we could print money in our basement or go to a bank and borrow it, which would we choose?

            The last of the greenback movement died in the late 1800’s. And the fact that the government once issued its own money has all but been erased from the history books, though this issue dominated American politics for most of that period.

            There would be no discussion of government debt if the government were allowed to print its own money, like it once did. We would not be facing demands of austerity.

            So where are the economists who advocate for letting the government print its own money again instead of having to borrow it from the banks?

            Some economists tell us we need to borrow more money, some tell us we need to borrow less, but none ever tell us we need to quit borrowing from the banks and start printing our own.

            Its the elephant in the economics’ room that no economist ever discusses. Ever.

            Gee I wonder why.

            For more on returning the government’s right to print its own money see this award winning video:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U71-KsDArFM

          2. Toby

            @davidgmills:

            Mainstream economists do avoid the subject, but those consigned to the fringes don’t. In case you haven’t already, check out Bernard Lietaer (YouTube has a few presentations), and of course the MMT crowd (e.g. Bill Mitchell).

      1. Roger Bigod

        Adam Smith pointed out that any good or service that requires deception to sell it is an inferior good for which the invisible hand conclusion does not apply. The “Nobel Prize in Economics” is an inferior good, the intellectual equivalent of a fake Rolex watch — which is certainly a Rolex Watch “in spirit”. It was obviously set up as a marketing ploy to assuage the status anxieties of economists, who could jump up and down proclaiming “See! See! We’re just as smart as the physicists. And not any old physicists — theoreticians who are so brilliant they don’t have to do experiments.”

        Economics isn’t the same kind of field as Physics, Chemistry or Physiology, so a prize can’t be based on the “same principles”. Similar procedures in nominations and committee deliberations, no doubt. But ritualistic aping of procedure doesn’t transmute the field into something approximating the natural sciences.

        A minor but stubborn problem is that there’s an admixture of politics in the choices. Is a prize funded by a bank really going to treat fairly a heterodox theory whose policy consequences would impair the profits of banks? I can’t think of a single winner in the natural sciences whose mention brings to mind a pile of bodies in a soccer stadium.

        Economics is certainly an important field, as the recent devastation illustrates. And it has been pursued by some extremely able people. It’s a nice journalistic convenience to distinguish distinguished experts with a short verbal formula, as the inventors of the ersatz Prize no doubt intended. But we would have been better served if they had set the prize up under a different name, such as the “Adam Smith Prize”. Over the years, the appropriateness and care of the selections would have given it cachet, without the invidious comparisons with real science.

        The ad hominem insult “bleating” is amusing. If it means poorly articulated discomfort, it better applies to the writer’s gibberish.

        1. Bill

          I award you the Nobel (well, not really a Nobel) in Pointing Out Invidious Comparison with Real Science Award and Putting Down People Clearly Smarter and Better Educated Than You(but perhaps equally pedantic) Award.

          Sincerely,

          RSAS

        2. Doug Terpstra

          Indeed, Roger, great comment, thanks.

          “Economics isn’t the same kind of field as Physics, Chemistry or Physiology, so a prize can’t be based on the ‘same principles’.”

          Well yeah, but that’s a slippery slope. By that same reasoning, one could infer the same about the (ig)Nobel Peace Prize, which would then discount its value for the notable achievements of such luminary recipients as Henry Kissinger or Barack Obama.

        3. DB Smith

          Dear Mr. By-God!

          I bow and quiver before your obviously superior intellect.

          Clearly, @Toby and I have no corner on pedantry.

          By-God, indeed.

      2. liberal

        That’s just stupid. They’re not Nobel Prizes because they weren’t established by Nobel.

        And there’s a pernicious effect. The so-called Nobel Prize in economics adds luster to the field, allowing it to pretend it’s a science.

        Given that economists as a whole missed a multi-trillion dollar housing bubble in the US when it was staring them in the face, economics isn’t a science; it’s a laughingstock.

      3. Eric L. Prentis

        Banks supplied the money to fund the Nobel prize in economics, NOT Mr. Nobel. The bankstas, for their own benefit, have glommed onto this prestigious scientific award and make sure their lackey-shills win, in order to support their political machinations. So now we have to contend with ivy-league twits, like Paul Krugman, who want a lot more government spending, thus massively running up the deficit, in order to keep the financial elite in power, for just a little longer.

  3. Helen

    Money doesn’t just evaporate into the ether: every loss experienced in this financial crisis had a counterparty. Combined with the cushion provided by the state absorption of some of these private losses, the hope of being on that counterparty the next time the shit hits the fan reduces the incentive to prosecute the fraudsters this time. It’s all fun and games: with “too big to fail” that is not accompanied by measures to make firms small enough to fail, no one can “lose an eye” anymore. Bumps and bruises, sure, but for the folks who make money on volume and surfing market waves, it’s time to start manufacturing the next set of mavericks.

    1. Mar

      Helen,

      Money can quite easily “evaporate into the ether”, after all, we all know that it is created in the ether when the banks issue a loan. The difficulty is in making it evaporate – the creation of the money is, as alluded to in the article, “indentured servitude” as it has been for whole time that the concept of money has been around. Money is simply an IOU for work/goods yet to be delivered, the only difference these days is that the banks are so closely allied to those in power that the “goods” that they are providing in return for your IOU is created out of nothing.
      The way to make money evaporate into the ether is to make the person who created it to forget all about it…

  4. Ted K

    You know who writes the laws??? Congressmen. You know who votes for Congressman?? Mr. and Miss Joe Q. Public. You know what happens to Congressman like Alan Grayson who spent the last TWO years taking on the big banks??? He’s polishing his resume now. Until you dumb M*therF*ckers known as the great unwashed learn how to read a freakin’ newspaper before you vote, the bankers will continue to trample you and at the climax of the next crisis, pick you out of the crevices of their shoes like an annoying piece of dog crap. You know why guys like Lloyd Blankfein disdain the public??? It’s hard to respect illiterates who cut off their own nose to vote Tea Party/Republican.

    1. Chris

      You know who funds candidates, astro turf groups, and various pro corporate thinking? Corporations.

      1. liberal

        Yeah, but ultimately, people need to bear responsibility for their actions.

        100 years ago, or even 50 years ago, people were extremely overworked, and information was hard (equivalently, expensive). That’s no longer the case now, so excuses are rather thin. People should be held responsible for their own stupidity.

    2. Jason Rines

      It was a shame about Grayson. Ben Franklin and Andrew Jackson fully understood something important. That without an independent media that had enough resources to reach a majority of the population and educate them at a level they understood that misdirection and gridlock just allowed a continuation of the bezzle.

  5. albrt

    After listening to snippets from today’s press conference, it seems clear to me that Obama is, at heart, a cowardly, lying, banker blowing whore. I’ve tried to keep an open mind, but at this point I can’t imagine what he could do that would change my opinion. Under the current system he’s probably the best we can do, but I’m sorry I voted for him.

    There is just no way around it – we are in for a lot of pain. The Republicans are not preventing the country from solving its problems. The Republicans are the problem. It is the Democrats who ought to be solving the problem and instead are preventing us from solving the problem. There is simply no way to maintain the illusion that voting for the lesser of two evils, or more accurately voting for the good cop over the bad cop, will solve the problems.

    If Alan Grayson, Russ Feingold, Howard Dean and every other unemployed, halfway honest politician in America decided to change the system and formed a third party tomorrow, and if they did absolutely everything right and also got extremely lucky, the earliest we could hope for any meaningful relief is probably 2016. So I guess we better get started.

      1. albrt

        True. Which is why the new party has to become one of the top two within the first couple of campaign cycles.

        I had always assumed that if the Democrats were challenged from the left, they would move even further to the right and eventually the Republicans would shrivel up and die. I now realize it’s the Democrats who must be destroyed, since they are the ones preventing us from confronting Republican evil in any meaningful way.

  6. Waltz Mathilde

    so i was working on this website about the details of a CDO, drilling down through the mortgage pools and such and such. i thought it would be a nice website and reveal some interesting relationships.

    then i discovered that my employer was involved in some of these deals. i took the site down last month.

    i think the best creative work about this crisis is, well, probably ‘the other guys’.

    we are the suckers. every one of us… liberal, conservative, christian, muslim, atheist, gay, straight, whatever.. they don’t care who they take the money from. all they care is that they take it.

  7. purple

    In all reality the U.S. will probably never recover. Yes, life will go on – but the indispensable nation ? Those days are slipping quickly into the past. And for most of the world, that is a good thing.

    1. Jason Rines

      That depends on your point of view. A Chinese empire funded by the same financeers and models but with a more collectivist bent does not mean the world is better off.

      Just a new empire shifted from the West to the East. Let’s say world war is avoided this time. Seventy years from now another shift from East to West.

  8. Sungam

    Just to quickly pick out the changes to personal bankruptcy. It is interesting to note that in contrast to private individuals corporation in the US have some of the most lenient bankruptcy terms in the world. Chapter 14 is legend.

    It’s getting to the point where every citizen should form its own one person corporation…

  9. Tom Crowl

    “Another Nobel Economist Says We Have to Prosecute Fraud Or Else the Economy Won’t Recover”

    Not only won’t the economy recover… but neither will an already creaky legal system…

    and you can kiss social cohesion good-bye.

    P.S. It doesn’t take a degree in economics to see this.

    The entrenchment of bias in the legal system is long-standing but only now becoming endemic, flagrant and readily apparent to all. That this isn’t recognized by ‘the elite’ is only more reason for their removal.

    P.P.S. People DON’T expect equal wealth distribution… especially when they see a person’s wealth connected to his/her own efforts and innovations that benefit all (this is the Adam Smith vision)… however when they come to understand that inequality is connected to corruption and deceit on a massive scale… well then you can expect trouble.

    The wealth of a society is a product of its NET social energy*…

    *social energy: individual and collective decisions operating within the limits of available resources and natural law which (quite literally) result in the product you see as a civilization.

    A decision here is defined as an idea + an action. Decisions can be motivated by any number of factors. Technologies are the products of previous decisions thus becoming available resources. And decision here is defined broadly… everything from “Let’s build a pyramid for the pharoah!” to “I’ve got a headache I think I’ll lie down.”

    All we see that is a civilization can be most fundamentally defined as a product of decisions: ideas + actions.

    Political and economic systems are ‘decision technologies’…

    Money, therefore can be seen as a store of decision rights… but it does this job VERY imperfectly and with subtly pernicious effect over time… even with the best of intentions.

    Credit Creation and the Building of Sustainable Economic Ecologies
    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/02/credit-creation-and-building-of.html

    No justice! No peace!… isn’t just an incendiary statement… its an AXIOM.

    “A Citizen’s responsibility in an area is directly proportional to his or her ability to have an effect. Without improvement in mechanisms of meaningful involvement, we will see a continued growth in apathy, frustration and ultimately a resort to less healthy forms of expression.”

  10. F. Beard

    Nice article and very true, but folks, how does one regulate an inherently dishonest system? Our banking system is literally a government backed cartel counterfeiting claims (credit liabilities) in the government enforced money supply. How does one regulate that? It is an invitation to steal. Furthermore, it is unstable and the bankers are sometimes FORCED to steal or go under.

    I’m not arguing for a government credit system as Ellen Brown might but that we truly have a free and competitive market in PRIVATE money creation.

    If we are going to have a free market then it must include true private money creation, not counterfeiting in the government monopoly money.

    1. davidgmills

      I would disagree. Ellen Brown is right. Why on earth should a sovereign give up its right to print its own money and hand that right over to private individuals?

      I can’t think of anything that is more governmental than the right of the government to print its own money for its own citizens and to pay for the infrastructure it needs with the money it prints. I think it was Jefferson who said that the banks need to get out of the government’s business of issuing currency rather than the other way around, which of course is the way the banks see it.

      I am not a citizen of the world’s banking cartel, although sometimes I wonder. If the government had the right to print its own money, I wouldn’t be wondering about it.

  11. F. Beard

    The population might tolerate even unjust wealth concentration IF the normal folk in society are decently clothed, fed and housed. However, if “austerity” is forced on them for no other reason than to continue to line the pockets of the unjust uber-rich then we should expect trouble. I expect the stupid Republicans to attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the poor while sparing the MIC and the FR bankers. Let them try; let’s see their true nature.

  12. Nathanael

    Yves, a tip: don’t use the word “earned” for thieves like Mozillo who didn’t earn their money. You want the word “acquired” or “was paid”, to be most generous.

    1. Bill

      The risk for the US is that if it continues to protect a system that is clearly rigged, then social instability may develop, and people may indeed opt out of a belief in capitalism. The details matter little, as our elections just proved.

    2. Rex

      On the misuse of earned.

      Yves did not use that phrase. It is a guest post and apparently what you reference was a quote from Stiglitz.

  13. yawningpro

    Yves despite my conclusion that writing this comment will achieve little and prove to be a very unproductive use of my time this morning, I feel compelled to do so if only for venting release it will provide.

    I have been a long time reader of this blog, and truthfully think you should be thanked for helping to illuminate the public. But lately I have increasingly seen a political/ideological ‘bent’ that has that has apparently undermined critical reasoning.

    I know you didn’t write this piece but you have lent the author a much valued platform so I think its fair for me to chastise you as well for this blog entry’s unsupported claims.

    Why haven’t you (or your readers) challenged your guest’s leap from un-prosecuted fraud is bad (“People have an incentive sometimes to behave badly, because they can make more money if they can cheat.”) to 2005’s Bankruptcy Reform turned American into indentured slaves???

    First he claims it “…contributed to the financial crisis”. Really ? what part of it? why? Oh he does say that “…what it did was encourage the banks to engage in even worse lending practices” I think a less ideologically driven phrase would be it encouraged banks to offer riskier unsecured credit and/or lowered the interest rate the lenders deemed necessary to make such loans. More important is the omission that the reform did not impact mortgage obligations and I am pretty sure the explosive growth in that and not auto loans or credit cards is if anything that could potentially created ‘indentured servants’

    Hey and what’s with all this pseudo marxist nomenclature anyway?? You just want to incite people is that it? Is the end game here mobs with pitchforks burning bank branches??

    1. Francois T

      I’m not sure this will be a productive use of my time either, but, I’ll give it a try:

      But lately I have increasingly seen a political/ideological ‘bent’ that has that has apparently undermined critical reasoning.

      And, pray tell how it could be otherwise given the extreme pollution that the political apparatus and apparatchiks have injected in the economy lately? Whether we like it or not, the use of politically “neutral” language at this juncture is next to impossible. Trying to do so simply whitewash great part of the malfeasance (Don’t tell me that “malfeasance” has political/ideological connotations….gasp!)that took place in the financial sector during the last decade.

      Why haven’t you (or your readers) challenged your guest’s leap from un-prosecuted fraud is bad (”People have an incentive sometimes to behave badly, because they can make more money if they can cheat.”) to 2005’s Bankruptcy Reform turned American into indentured slaves???

      Say what?? There is no leap form proposition A to proposition B. All we got here are the description of two parallel phenomenons that took place during the last decade and contributed to the same set of bad outcomes.

      Oh he does say that “…what it did was encourage the banks to engage in even worse lending practices” I think a less ideologically driven phrase would be it encouraged banks to offer riskier unsecured credit and/or lowered the interest rate the lenders deemed necessary to make such loans…

      So, the expression “worse lending practices” is an “ideologically driven phrase”? That is a quite far fetched, isn’t it? Ideological sensitivity on the touchy-feely side much? I understand this election cycles has been a tad trying but, that is pushing it.

    2. attempter

      Concern trolls are funny. And this one is especially long-winded in establishing his “concerned” bona fides.

      I’ll play, too:

      I can tell that your comment is very well thought out, and I agree with your concern about the troubling direction this blog has recently been taking. But I can’t help wondering: what precisely is the “pseudo-Marxist nomenclature” you refer to? I read the piece and I can’t see any examples of Marxian terminology. I know that your term “nomenclature” was meant to establish how serious and precise your criticism is. I know I’m impressed by it. Which is why I’m all the more confused about why you didn’t provide any examples of this nomenclature. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were just a pro-bank troll out to smear the clear truths of this post, and of this blog in general.

      1. yawningpro

        Your sarcasm is impressive but your labeling of me as ‘pro-bank troll’ is rather telling about your style of discussing/debating an issue. Clearly I or anyone else who dares not share your views must have ulterior nefarious motives. Having thus been so flamboyantly unveiled by your vastly superior intelligence and motiveless dedication to mankind’s betterment I shall obediently withdraw from this sandbox you reign over.

  14. Code Marxy

    During the more violent points of the US inspired terrorism of the War to destroy Iraq, goons would bomb and set fire to banks. People are clueless, I feel, because they are completely unaware of the destruction the housing bubble has wrought, destroyed lives, destroyed families and less important then a roof over ones head, destroyed wealth.

      1. Wyndtunnel

        Who is being careful with his wishes.. I say bring on the pitchforks! Does that bother you? The American civil war claimed close to 1 million Americans… You think that could not happen again? The thing to look out for is a food shortage. If the food supply chain gets disrupted – by a really nasty perfect storm of financial shenanigans or more natural disasters – the gloves will come off. Marshall Law will come into effect and all those guns that Americans are so proud to own will likely be put into action. America is a tinderbox. The Fed’s pump priming over the past 30 years has done nothing but put out the periodical economic brush fires of recession before they could clear the market of malinvestments and bad debts… Economies are natural systems and if you don’t let the lightning strikes and brush fires play out according to Nature’s will, you set things up for a catastrophic forest fire that will destroy everything in its path. It’s not rocket science.

          1. Wyndtunnel

            I’m not saying it will be enjoyable…only that is it necessary for something to give… How can you just sit there and think that the moral rot that is at the bottom of the banking and mortgage apocalypse will somehow go away gently into the night and be replaced by a pious finance industry that believes in the common good before individual satiation. We have all of recorded history telling us that it just doesn’t happen that way… Anyway..thanks for the blessing, cause we’re all going to need it.

  15. Wyndtunnel

    Does it really take a bunch of PhDs to figure this out? Any child in kindergarten would be able to tell you that if all the blocks go to two of the 1 of the 20 kids in the class (or are there, like 50 kids a class nowadays??) that that isn’t FAIR. Or that when the teacher’s pet gets away with everything, that isn’t FAIR. Or that when the whole class gets punished for what one kid does, that isn’t FAIR (and in the real world the class gets punished but the kid who did the offense doesn’t). It’s basic grade school ethics for God’s sake! It’s surreal…just surreal. It makes me ill. And in a country that blows so much hot air about Godliness and doing what Jesus would do. What Jesus DID (and I’m talking the historical one here who was flesh and blood and born to the not so virgin Mary) was to visit “the Temple in Jerusalem, Herod’s Temple, at which the courtyard is described as being filled with livestock and the tables of the money changers, who changed the standard Greek and Roman money for Jewish and Tyrian money, which were the only coinage that could be used in Temple ceremonies. Creating a whip from some cords, “he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. But he said to those who sold doves, “Get these out of here! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”

    And of course they then crucified him for the Roman Empire was at the brink of collapse and the truth that Jesus spoke was in fact quite dangerous… why else would an entire new World Order rise around his teachings (and then be distorted to the benefit of the Religious and Aristocratic Elites). I mean damn, they reset TIME to zero.. that’s one hell of reset!

    I fear (and hope quite honestly) that the time is nigh for such a reset to occur. Although this time we risk ending up with BG and AG… Before Google and After Google. For in the end what is any organized Religion other than a technology to store and disseminate information, a network, a web if you will, at the service of controlling and yes, even guiding, a population that requires guidance from a source greater than the sum of it’s parts (It tells us what we should be doing..right Google?).

    I’m not convinced that humans will ever evolve beyond this mechanism of social control. In any case the failure of modern economics, in my view is a but a system of humans having reached the logical conclusion of Judeo Christina theology. Much thinking needs to be done about how technology and humans are to coexist, what is possible with this union, and whether or not we must give in to the compulsion of testing the limits of our ingenuity. Or perhaps we as a species do not actually have free will. We must push the limits of resource extraction and technological “innovation” and risk our very existence in the service of some higher imperative that we can barely begin to imagine.. Just sayin’.. Big things are coming down the pipe.

    1. F. Beard

      In any case the failure of modern economics, in my view is a but a system of humans having reached the logical conclusion of Judeo Christina theology. Wyndtunnel

      Perhaps you should read the Bible and tell us where it justifies theft of purchasing power via government backed fractional reserve lending in a government enforced monopoly money supply. It fact, it condemns oppression of the poor even if done supposedly for their own good.

      Jesus is coming back, maybe soon, and I would hate to be a modern day money changer when that occurs.

      1. Wyndtunnel

        What I was eluding to is how the message has been twisted and distorted, in particular by protestants and the panoply of non-Catholic christians sects that have reduced Christianity to a personal relationship with God which opens the door to laissez-faire capitalism. I’m generalizing here but I’ll take a chance and suggest that it is no mistake that the roots of our current economic disasterpiece are firmly planted in the U.S.A and the U.K., not exactly known for their devout Catholicism which while more oppressive in it’s use of guilt to manipulate the herd (quite literally God’s herd of sheep, the sheeple as it were). Disclaimer: I was raised Catholic but I’m an atheist… However, it fascinates me to no end how obvious it is that all religions of the world are designed to control the masses at the service of the Religious, Economic and Political elites and yet virtually the majority of all people on Earth swallow it whole without nary a second thought simply because the thought of dying an absolute death is somehow so “scaaaary”… If humanity can’t get over the fact that we are born from, and return to, star dust, that we are nothing more than very confused, clever animals, that we should, in theory at least, chose to not pursue endless growth at all costs..then I don’t hold up much hope for the future… Well I do have some hope for the future but unfortunately for billions of people (which could easily include myself) there will need to be a massive cull of humans from the face of the planet before things can possibly get better… If our economic systems falters to the point of worst case scenarios then starvation and disease will make a furious comeback and establish the equilibrium that we’ve been fighting so long to keep on the up side. And that, IMHO, would be a GOOD thing.

        1. F. Beard

          If our economic systems falters to the point of worst case scenarios then starvation and disease will make a furious comeback and establish the equilibrium that we’ve been fighting so long to keep on the up side. And that, IMHO, would be a GOOD thing. Wyndtunnel

          That is so sad that you can say such a thing.

          BTW, I used to be a Catholic myself. I suggest you pick up a Bible and read it yourself. You’ll be surprised, I’d bet.

          1. Wyndtunnel

            YES it is sad… but beautiful at the same time… Civilization reset itself to time ZERO in the wake of Jesus’ teachings… I think we’ve wandered much much too far from the original message of the Bible.. And no I have not studied the Bible per se but I have a decent understanding of it’s main tenants… The one that sticks out the most for me is that DEBT is the ultimate EVIL. Usury is very, very destructive. The way I see it we’re right back to square one worshipping the Golden Calf waiting for Moses or Jesus or maybe it’s Google for all we know… God is a human construct.. We created God in OUR image not the reverse. We need the concept of a greater power to keep our animal spirits in check from doing harm to each other and thus to the collective. Don’ t get me wrong… I believe that the ultimate failure of our civilization is a moral one. Christ’s message is not gaining traction, at least not in Canada. And I’m not sure what to make of Envangelicals and other manifestations of the protestant work ethic in America.. For I believe very strongly that it is this emphasis on the personal relationship with God that has led America astray..How else can so many said religious people behave so very, very much against the words of the Bible they claim to revere to so much?

  16. nowhereman

    I suppose this is the part where the mysterious stranger rides into town and shoots the corrupt sheriff and saves the widow Brown from the greedy land baron.

    Yes it’s getting more like a spaghetti western every day.

  17. canute

    Our situation is called “regulatory capture,” and it means that the entities that are supposed to be regulated control the regulators.

    You can look up “wealth primary” for the details, but, in brief, on average:

    -Whichever candidate in a congressional primary spends the most money wins, 9 times out of 10.
    -The top spender outspends the #2 spender 3:1.
    -Over 3/4 of the money comes in $500-$2000 chunks from millionaires.

    The flood of unregulated corporate money from Citizens United only exacerbates the problem.

    Ergo, any candidate with opinions that offend the CEO/major stockholder class has a slim chance of even getting to the general election. Our congress is filtered for wealth-friendly attitudes at the beginning of the electoral process. We see the results every day, including the non-prosecution of white collar criminals who steal billions.

    The answer, IMHO, is a few rounds of single issue voting. Pledge to campaign for, donate to, and vote for candidates who will enact real campaign finance reform, including the necessary constitutional amendments, if necessary. If it means voting for someone who will go in and work on nothing else for two years, so be it. Voting for preselected wealth-bots isn’t doing us any good now.

  18. mfritter

    Unfortunately, it appears that it would take a constitutional amendment to produce real campaign finance reform. The would require a two thirds majority of both houses of Congress and then three fourths of the states would need to ratify it. So remote as to be impossible.

  19. steelhead23

    Actually, I believe that the real reason the U.S. AG is doing almost nothing is not the inducement of the revolving door – or any other form of individual corruption. It is fear. I believe that Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner have discouraged aggressive prosecution of fraud because of fear that it would precipitate the collapse of the house of cards – a rapid and unruly debt repudiation and bankruptcy among the financial elite. That is, the Obama Administration is undermining the rule of law because it is cowardly. And getting kicked by the Tea Party is unlikely to make it more courageous. Indeed, I suspect that they believe that they are being pragmatic, not cowardly. The damage they are doing exceeds the economic calamity and may lead to a legitimation crisis.

  20. Paul Tioxon

    Well, a divided Washington DC is a conquered Washington DC. The “rule or ruin” has a NO DEAL offensive against the citizenry. The old guard is shocked at the nihilism of the next in line to the throne, at least the New Industrial State had an ethos, but this new crowd is soooo beyond the pale. Some people just want to sit back after they set the fire and shoot the fleeing victims in the knees so they can’t watch them crawl away from the growing inferno or get half baked. Well, I certainly don’t feel that way. I would think the Obama administration needs to get a shocking smack in the face. I am not sure this mid-term election is it. Let’s hope they are mad as hell and aren’t gonna keep allowing themselves to get humiliating republican wedgies while millions are being bled dry.

  21. Steve Bradley

    Well, I do agree with the “need for punishment,” but even more importantly, I believe that the linkage between government and wall street (and the banks) needs to end. Until these are adversarial, or at least neutral, wall street will be able to bribe politicians to do its will; in addition, the feds have “signed on” with their own form of fraud, which will never be prosecuted, in the form of our boom-bust cycle promoted by the Federal Reserve through its various tightening and loosening strategies. At this point, asking the govt to prosecute is very much like asking the fox to prosecute the farmer for eating the chickens. They may be in competition, but hey! WE are the chickens. We don’t wanna be eaten!!!

  22. TC

    I offer here three words cutting through the silence on Wall Street regarding a momentous event whose ultimate fruition could very well go a long way toward a rigorous prosecution of financial fraud: Governor Andrew Cuomo.

    (Say goodbye to New York State’s budget problems, as there are many ways to skin a fat cat banker…)

  23. anne

    Thank you for this guest post! This needs to be repeated across the country, especially in law schools and legal circles. For the first time in my life (and I am seventy years old) I live in fear of the legal system in this country. My family members and good friends, along with hundreds of others, have just become victims of the very scenario posted by Jacke in the first comment. Small and middle class businesses are under attack by legal crooks, and the courts have buckled to the corruption. What is happening reminds me of the situation in Argentina in the 60s, just before the thuggery that wiped out family after family and led to brutal murders of entire segments of the population. Do none of you people in authority, you lawyers, bankers, economists, and federal officials, recognize that the very rule of law is being destroyed?

  24. Hoofin

    This is brilliant. I have also been saying that fraud (deception) is at the heart of this whole mess. That post really makes it clear that it’s not just the outright lie, but the lies built into the assumptions of recent laws and regulations, that has the nation all screwed up.

    First it was the financial system alone. But now clearly even the judicial system is caught up in perpetrating deceptions spun by the financial industry.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      You might google to locate a recent guest post here at NC by Prof William BLack. In case you missed it, he pointed out that over the years, the forces now in power have created a system of academic chairs in econ and also legal departments. People who later become judges and professors pass through that system.

      Significantly, he gave an example of one author of legal textbooks who is such a True Believer in Free Market Capitalism that he does not believe fraud could possibly happen. (Whether he also believes in pretty pink ponies and Tiki Gods, I have no idea.)

      Add in the fact that in many places around the US judges are elected — and we now have undisclosed money pouring in to the nation to affect election outcomes — and you have a formula for fraud to remain unquestioned, undiscussed, and quite potentially ignored by courts.

  25. F. Beard

    For I believe very strongly that it is this emphasis on the personal relationship with God that has led America astray..How else can so many said religious people behave so very, very much against the words of the Bible they claim to revere to so much? Wyndtunnel

    A personal relationship with God is to be found by reading His Word (daily). I sincerely doubt that many Christians do read the Bible, especially the Old Testament.

    John 8:31-32

    Proverbs 8:33-36

    If for no other reason, every Westerner should read the Bible just to be literate in his culture.

  26. Opinionated Bloviator

    Q: What do all third/forth world dumps/hellholes have in common? A: NO RULE OF LAW. If the United States looses the rule of law WE will collapse into a thirld world failed state. YOU cannot run a first world economy on third world rule of whim. We are becoming the United States of Argentina, god help us all.

  27. MSNDC

    I’d like to see a full page add in major newspapers signed by Mr Black, etc carefully stating their arguments for commecing prosecutions.

  28. davidgmills

    As a practicing litigator of 33 years, I can tell you that there has been nothing but a steady stream of judicial decisions and legislative acts that have systematically deprived the average person of so many of his basic rights and even access to the courts.

    The irony is that it is the rule of law with its harsh outcomes to the average person that is the real danger of creating the loss of the rule of law. There is only so much legal unfairness that the public can withstand.

    This mortgage crisis is just an abomination and it remains to be seen whether the banks will get away with it. My guess is that they probably will, because the average person and his lawyer do not have the financial means to take on the banks in court. Moreover, the laws are lopsided in favor of the banks. The banks, as they often do, will win by default, when the individuals and their lawyers are no longer able to handle the financial burden of litigation.

    Attacking the massive fraud is going to be even problematical for AG’s. But one approach that might bring the banks down is to attack the liens and strip the liens from the mortgages. In all probability all of these MERS mortgages are unsecuritized. Most attorneys have yet to figure out that the MERS system essentially privatizes the deed recording system by making a strawman, MERS, the lienholder. When you make a strawman hold the lien rights, the public recording system loses its transparency and openness.

    If the courts go after this system and strike down the concept of a strawman lienholder, then the whole system will collapse and all mortgages will be unsecured. With a strawman lienholder, no one is able to ascertain who the real creditor is and whether a release is from the actual creditor. Several supreme courts (Arkansas, Kansas, Maine) have already struck down these liens. The courts either have to strike them down, or they have to give up a public recording system. Time will tell what they do.

    If all the AG’s jumped on this one consistent defect, that would cave the system.

    1. jacke

      The media myth that this economic collapse is the result of bad home mortgages persists, but I contend that it is not primarily home mortgages that are the issue. Each business loan that the larger regional banks made was equal to many home mortgages. When the banks could not fund those business loans, they forced the business projects into collapse, thus causing hundreds of layoffs and, ultimately, the closing of many businesses. Those losses and the unemployment thus created then led to the collapse of the home mortgage market.
      Yes, all the loans, both business and home, were on properties that were likely overvalued, but that was the economic climate in which businesses were operating at the time.

  29. davidgmills

    @ Toby re Bernard Lietaer

    He should have contacted an attorney before he proposed this system. Under the US Constitution, this system would be prohibited.

    State and local currencies, unless they are silver or gold coin currencies, are prohibited under Article 1, Section 10.

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