By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: October 23, 2014
What the New York Fed attempted to pull off this past Monday with its full-day conference for the execs of wayward Wall Street banks was a public relations stunt to switch the national debate from its culture to Wall Street’s culture. Styled as a “Workshop on Reforming Culture and Behavior in the Financial Services Industry,” the event came less than a month after ProPublica and public radio’s “This American Life” released internal tape recordings made by a former New York Fed bank examiner, Carmen Segarra, revealing a regulator with no bark or bite.
ProPublica’s Jake Bernstein wrote that the tapes and a confidential report by an outside consultant demonstrated the New York Fed’s “history of deference to banks.”
But there is far more to this story. Wall Street banking executives, who elect two-thirds of the Board of Directors of the New York Fed and have frequently served on its Board, have structured the institution to be its sycophant. Consider the fact that Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, sat on the Board of the New York Fed from 2007 through 2012 as the regulator failed to follow through on three separate staff recommendations that JPMorgan’s Chief Investment Office undergo a thorough investigation, as reported this week by the Federal Reserve System’s Inspector General.
JPMorgan’s Chief Investment Office in 2012 finally owned up to losing $6.2 billion of bank depositors’ money in wild bets on exotic derivatives in London.
A Wall Street regulator, like the New York Fed, which has staff positions called “relationship managers” that are considered senior to, and can bully and intimidate, their bank examiner colleagues, is in no position to be lecturing Wall Street on its culture. Indeed, the culture on Wall Street of “it’s legal if you can get away with it,” grew out of its cozy, crony relationships with its regulators like the New York Fed, an enshrined revolving door at the SEC, self-regulatory bodies delivering hand slaps and its own private justice system to keep its secrets shielded from the public’s view.
To suggest that a one-day conference and a few speeches are going to make a dent in a structure intentionally created to deliver heads we win, tails you lose on behalf of Wall Street interests is deeply insulting – especially coming from the New York Fed, the target of future Senate hearings on its own culture.
The seriousness with which disciplinary lectures by the New York Fed are taken by the big Wall Street players is evidenced by those who snubbed Monday’s conference – namely, the CEOs of the serial miscreants. Not in attendance, according to the participant list released by the New York Fed were: JPMorgan CEO, Jamie Dimon; Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat; and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
William Dudley, President of the New York Fed, whose wife receives $190,000 a year in deferred compensation from JPMorgan where she was previously employed as a Vice President, sized up the loathsome regard that Wall Street now holds in the public mind as follows:
“Since 2008, fines imposed on the nation’s largest banks have far exceeded $100 billion. The pattern of bad behavior did not end with the financial crisis, but continued despite the considerable public sector intervention that was necessary to stabilize the financial system. As a consequence, the financial industry has largely lost the public trust. To illustrate, a 2012 Harris poll found that 42 percent of people responded either ‘somewhat’ or ‘a lot’ to the statement that Wall Street ‘harms the country’; furthermore, 68 percent disagreed with the statement: ‘In general, people on Wall Street are as honest and moral as other people.’ ”
Further cementing that public distrust, the media was barred from attending Monday’s conference at the New York Fed. Press members who nonetheless reported on the event evoked a recurring theme of violent acts to deal with incorrigible actors.
Aaron Elstein at Crain’s New York used an analogy comparing the Fed to the 15th century Vatican which dealt with a problem it was having by calling a big conference and burning alive the outlier and casting his remains into the Rhine.
This thought about the conference constituted the first paragraph of Bartlett Naylor’s reporting at Huffington Post: “The Roman army responded to desertion by randomly executing a tenth of those soldiers remaining. They called it decimation, derived from the word ‘tenth.’ This discipline, of course, prompted all soldiers to police against desertion so as to save their own skins.”
Jon Hilsenrath at the Wall Street Journal was thinking along similar lines. Hilsenrath reflected on the book, Manias, Panics, and Crashes, which carries a chapter by University of Chicago Professor Robert Aliber in its revised sixth edition. Hilsenrath quotes as follows from the book: “At the time of the South Sea Bubble, (Lord) Molesworth, then a member of the (British) House of Commons, suggested that parliament should declare the directors of the South Sea Company guilty of parricide and subject them to the ancient Roman punishment of that transgression – to be sewn into sacks, each with a monkey and a snake, and drowned.”
Business media is not the only source pondering violence against Wall Street scoundrels. This summer, venture capitalist, Nick Hanauer, worried aloud to his fellow plutocrats in Politico Magazine about when public anger might spill over into pitchforks. Hanauer writes:
“What everyone wants to believe is that when things reach a tipping point and go from being merely crappy for the masses to dangerous and socially destabilizing, that we’re somehow going to know about that shift ahead of time. Any student of history knows that’s not the way it happens. Revolutions, like bankruptcies, come gradually, and then suddenly. One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there’s no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand. That’s the way it always happens. If inequality keeps rising as it has been, eventually it will happen. We will not be able to predict when, and it will be terrible—for everybody. But especially for us.”
There are currently a stunning 8,477 comments under the article. The following two, listed together, capture the current divide between Main Street and Wall Street:
Betsarama: “Thank you! Exactly. My father had a saying with regard to how much he charged and what his company earned, and that was ‘Enough.’ People loved him for his intelligence, simplicity and hard work. That’s American. Being filthy stinking rich — what is there to admire?”
Crapulous Mass responds: “One of the beauties to being filthy stinking rich is really not having to care what others think of you.”
This might well explain why Dimon, Corbat and Blankfein snubbed the lectures on Monday.