By Pam Martens: January 17, 2024 ~
Anat Admati, Professor of Finance and Economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and German economist Martin Hellwig, have performed a public service to all Americans with their newly released, updated and expanded book The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It. It puts the interlocking web of corruption that is mistakenly referred to as the U.S. banking system into a pristinely documented and highly readable book.
Let us first explain those men without pants on the book jacket. That provocative graphic comes from the storyline in the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Tailors offer to make the emperor magical clothes that will be visible only to smart people and invisible to the stupid and unfit. When the emperor’s ministers go to inspect the clothes, they see nothing, but they are fearful of being called stupid if they admit this. The emperor, also fearful of being regarded as intellectually lacking, says nothing and tours the capitol in his nonexistent garments. Only a child is brave enough to shout out in the capitol “The emperor has no clothes,” thus breaking the conspiracy of silence.
The authors explain in example after example how corruption has taken over the banking system today but the guardians of our democracy have bought into the “pervasive myth that banks and banking are special and different,” so they have allowed themselves to be socialized to silence out of fear of being “declared incompetent to participate in the discussion.”
As I read that insightful analogy, the image of 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl treating JPMorgan Chase’s crime boss, Jamie Dimon, like a revered financial wizard in a televised interview in 2019 flashed through my mind. (Less than a year after that program aired, JPMorgan Chase admitted to another two felony counts brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, bringing its total to an unprecedented five felony counts in the span of six years.)
A key area on which Admati and Hellwig shine much needed sunshine is the accounting gimmickry that allows U.S. banks to hide billions of dollars in losses on bonds by simply labeling them “held to maturity” securities. (For background, see here and here.) The authors write that “Accounting rules should be changed so that banks must apply fair-value accounting to all assets regardless of how long they intend to hold them.”
Admati and Hellwig also provide brilliant new insights into the second, third and fourth largest bank failures in U.S. history that occurred in the spring of last year. Those bank failures resulted in the Federal Reserve creating yet another new bailout program, the Bank Term Funding Program, despite the American people being reassured since 2010 that the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation ended “too big to fail.”
The authors compare the persistent attack by banks, their lobbyists, and their toadies in Congress that bank regulations impose a “cost” on society to “chemical companies complaining about increased costs when they are prohibited from dumping toxic chemicals into rivers next to their plants.”
This is a spot-on comparison considering that the worst financial crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression occurred from 2007 to 2010 as a result of the Wall Street mega banks dumping their toxic mortgage securities across the financial landscape of America and imploding a vast stretch of it.
The final chapter of the book, “Above the Law?” is a testament to the encyclopedic banking knowledge of the authors. They have selected some of the most revealing episodes of banking crimes to illustrate how Americans now live under the jackboot of Wall Street banking titans with all avenues of redress locked up tight.
One example cited in the chapter is vital to understanding the perilous nature of how Americans have been stripped of their ability to fight back against the banking cartel – whose tentacles now extend into the courts, the Congress, the Justice Department and federal prosecutors’ offices across the land.
On November 19, 2013 the Justice Department, together with a number of state attorneys general, announced a stunning $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase for “misleading investors about securities containing toxic mortgages.” The Justice Department’s Statement of Facts was so devoid of critical details that it was impossible to unravel the scope of what had gone down.
The nonprofit watchdog, Better Markets, was so incensed by the subterfuge that it filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice in February 2014, writing as follows:
“…the Executive Branch, through DOJ, acted as investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, sentencer, and collector, without any review or approval of its unilateral and largely secret actions. The DOJ assumed this all-encompassing role even though the settlement amount is the largest with a single entity in the 237 year history of the United States and even though it provides civil immunity for years of illegal conduct by a private entity related to an historic financial crash that has caused economic wreckage affecting virtually every single American. The Executive Branch simply does not have the unilateral power or authority to do so by entering a mere contract with the private entity without any constitutional checks and balances.
“Notwithstanding such extensive and historic illegal conduct that resulted in a $13 billion payment, the DOJ did not disclose the identity of a single JP Morgan Chase executive, officer, or employee, no matter how involved in or responsible for the illegal conduct. In fact, the DOJ did not even disclose the number of executives, officers, or employees involved in the illegal conduct or if any of them are still executives, officers, or employees of JP Morgan Chase today. Moreover, the DOJ did not disclose the material details of what these individuals did, when or how they did it, or to whom and with what consequences. The DOJ was even silent as to which specific laws were violated, to what degree, and by what conduct. The DOJ also did not disclose even an estimate of the amount of damage JP Morgan Chase’s years of illegal conduct caused or how much money it made or how much money its clients, customers, counterparties, and investors lost. Remarkably, the DOJ does not even clearly state the period for which it is granting JP Morgan Chase immunity….”
So what happens when a genuinely non-partisan watchdog attempts to stand up for the rights of everyday Americans against the largest and most serially-charged bank in America? The federal court dismissed Better Markets case on the basis that it lacked standing.
The Attorney General at the Justice Department at the time of Better Markets’ lawsuit was Eric Holder, who did not bring one criminal charge against any top Wall Street executive despite the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression and despite the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission referring nine individuals to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecutions. Eric Holder and his head of the criminal division at the Justice Department, Lanny Breuer, both hailed from Covington & Burling, the corporate law firm that a federal judge called out for fronting for Big Tobacco for decades. See more from Wall Street On Parade related to Holder’s Justice Department here.
Summing up where we find ourselves today, the authors write:
“In an earlier era, conflicts between aristocrats and ordinary people would be decided in favor of the aristocrats no matter what; judges who were themselves aristocrats took it for granted that people of their own class must prevail. Some of the developments that we have sketched suggest that we may be returning to such a system. This situation poses a fundamental threat to our democracies, which are built on a rule of law in which all people are treated as equal before the law.”