As you read this, notice the name of one of the individuals intimately involved in triggering one particularly significant element of the credit crisis. Yes, that’s right, it coincidentally happens to be the very same man who just successfully demanded economic dictator status and $810,000,000,000.00 in order to “fix” it:
Many events in Washington, on Wall Street and elsewhere around the country have led to what has been called the most serious financial crisis since the 1930s. But decisions made at a brief meeting on April 28, 2004, explain why the problems could spin out of control. The agency’s failure to follow through on those decisions also explains why Washington regulators did not see what was coming.
On that bright spring afternoon, the five members of the Securities and Exchange Commission met in a basement hearing room to consider an urgent plea by the big investment banks. They wanted an exemption for their brokerage units from an old regulation that limited the amount of debt they could take on. The exemption would unshackle billions of dollars held in reserve as a cushion against losses on their investments. Those funds could then flow up to the parent company, enabling it to invest in the fast-growing but opaque world of mortgage-backed securities; credit derivatives, a form of insurance for bond holders; and other exotic instruments.
The five investment banks led the charge, including Goldman Sachs, which was headed by Henry M. Paulson Jr. Two years later, he left to become Treasury secretary.
A lone dissenter — a software consultant and expert on risk management — weighed in from Indiana with a two-page letter to warn the commission that the move was a grave mistake. He never heard back from Washington. One commissioner, Harvey J. Goldschmid, questioned the staff about the consequences of the proposed exemption. It would only be available for the largest firms, he was reassuringly told — those with assets greater than $5 billion.
“We’ve said these are the big guys,” Mr. Goldschmid said, provoking nervous laughter, “but that means if anything goes wrong, it’s going to be an awfully big mess.”
This also demonstrates the inherent problem with government regulation. Regulation doesn’t actually prevent most of problems it is supposed to prevent, it merely provides everyone with the illusion that they will be prevented. When the push of the politically powerful comes to shoves directed at the government regulator, they are always going to cave.
The big banks wanted the freedom to fail. The regulators acceded to their request. The American people should have let the big banks experience the consequences of their actions; since they have not, they can rest assured that they will suffer worse consequences than those with which they were threatened. It’s not likely, but here’s hoping that enough congressmen will stick to their guns once more and again refuse to roll over and play whore for Wall Street.
I’m never quite sure if I should be more amused or alarmed to discover that so much of Robert Anton Wilson’s bizarre visions have turned out to be far more true than more conventional models of reality.
UPDATE – The House rolled, 263-171. Well, at least one will be able to say that the American people eminently deserve what they’re soon going to be getting. And it should be extremely amusing to listen to all the Republicans and fair-weather conservatives wondering how they could have been hammered so badly in November when they showed such bold leadership by bravely abandoning their professed principles in a time of crisis.
UPDATE II – Rod Dreher saw Ron Paul on CNN:
Rep. Ron Paul, on CNN right now deploring the $700 billion bailout the president has just signed into law. He shook his head, saying that the government is throwing kerosene on the fire by spending more money.
“They’re not dealing with the fact that this country is bankrupt,” he said, of the Congress. “Doing nothing would have been a reasonable alternative.”
Paul also said that we are on the verge of major events in this country. He did not elaborate.