By Pam Martens: September 30, 2013
On September 15, 2013, CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to reminisce on the five-year anniversary of the Wall Street crash. After host David Gregory remarked that only 14 percent of Americans had a positive view of Wall Street, Bartiromo donned her vintage Wall Street p.r. hat and reframed the problem:
Bartiromo: “We need to get beyond the conversation of is Wall Street evil, are the bankers evil and causing pain; and toward the conversation of, how do you create sustainable economic growth? That will answer the issue of inequality. Because with growth comes jobs.”
There are three structural reasons we can’t get past the conversation that Wall Street is evil — the first being that it is evil under its current form and the public is reminded of just how evil on a weekly basis with the revelation of its ever more ingenious crimes, like over-charging by 80 times for electricity, withholding aluminum off the market and driving up the price of canned beer and soda, or selling investments designed to fail to unwary investors.
An equal obstacle to changing the subject is that nothing in the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation has slimmed down these banks or separated them from using insured deposits in their illegal wealth transfer schemes – moving wealth from our pockets to theirs. In fact, three of Wall Street’s worst actors, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Citigroup, now control a combined $2.539 trillion in domestic deposits in their FDIC insured subsidiaries, a stunning 41 percent of all 6,940 U.S. banks’ holdings.
Bartiromo’s simplistic platitude that job creation will repair the income and wealth gap in America ignores the structural monster of Wall Street: the mislabeled free market is itself the primary obstacle blocking any hope of leveling the playing field in terms of wealth creation, income equality, or economic growth.
It’s simply impossible to have three serial miscreants controlling 41 percent of Americans’ life savings and arrive at a level playing field. It’s impossible to allow those three institutions to recklessly gamble in opaque derivatives trading in hopes of a big score that will elevate the bonus pool for the top one percent and expect to arrive at a level playing field.
It’s naïve and economically dangerous to believe that Wall Street firms that continue to grant their executives multi-million dollar pay packages as the companies’ crime tabs reach into the multi-billions are anything more than wealth transfer schemes in drag as banks.
It’s equally unhelpful to allow the executives of the largest firms on Wall Street to perpetually preside over the theft of tens of billions of dollars from the public investor or the public purse without ever seeing the inside of a jail cell. That’s not going to reform behavior.
And here’s the third structural impediment that you never read about – because it’s simply too frightening to contemplate. These Wall Street banks are the equivalent of Uncle Sam’s bankers – they are the primary dealers to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to carry out its monetary policy; they are under contract with the Federal Reserve to buy at every auction of U.S. Treasury securities; they are key cogs in the monetary system of the United States.
In 1988 there were 46 primary dealers. That number had shrunk to 30 by 1999. Today, the number stands at 21. In no small part, that dramatic decline stems from the U.S. Department of Justice allowing the likes of JPMorgan, Bank of America, and Citigroup to gobble up banks with abandon with no anti trust intervention on the part of the Feds. That degree of wealth concentration is a threat to national security but the Feds have stood down on the matter for more than two decades.
When that concentration created systemic contagion in the implosion of Wall Street in 2008, the attendant collapse in the economy and Federal stimulus spending to spare us from a repeat of the Great Depression propelled our national debt to $16.7 trillion today.
That $16.7 trillion debt means our government needs vast pools of liquidity available to buy at U.S. Treasury auctions; in other words, mega banks like JPMorgan, Bank of America and Citigroup.
And this is the really scary part – felons cannot engage in Treasury auction contracts. To indict a major Wall Street firm would be to indict a primary dealer – an essential cog in monetary policy in the U.S.
What we really need are less platitudes from CNBC and serious structural reforms from Congress.