Return the Rule of Law to Wall Street says Sen. Kaufman

Sen. Kaufman’s speech. More excerpts

Mr. President, it is high time that we return the rule of law to Wall Street, which has been seriously eroded by the deregulatory mindset that captured our regulatory agencies over the past 30 years, a process I described at length in my speech on the floor last Thursday. We became enamored of the view that self-regulation was adequate, that “rational” self-interest would motivate counterparties to undertake stronger and better forms of due diligence than any regulator could perform, and that market fundamentalism would lead to the best outcomes for the most people. Transparency and vigorous oversight by outside accountants were supposed to keep our financial system credible and sound.

The allure of deregulation, instead, led to the biggest financial crisis since 1929. And now we’re learning, not surprisingly, that fraud and lawlessness were key ingredients in the collapse as well. Since the fall of 2008, Congress, the Federal Reserve and the American taxpayer have had to step into the breach – at a direct cost of more than $2.5 trillion – because, as so many experts have said: “We had to save the system.”

But what exactly did we save?

Not you and me. That’s for sure.

First, a system of overwhelming and concentrated financial power that has become dangerous. It caused the crisis of 2008-2009 and threatens to cause another major crisis if we do not enact fundamental reforms. Only six U.S. banks control assets equal to 63 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, while oversight is splintered among various regulators who are often overmatched in assessing weaknesses at these firms.

Second, a system in which the rule of law has broken yet again. Big banks can get away with extraordinarily bad behavior – conduct that would not be tolerated in the rest of society, such as the blatant gimmicks used by Lehman, despite the massive cost to the rest of us.

The Lessons of Lehman Brothers and Other Examples

Mr. President, what lessons should we take from the bankruptcy examiner’s report on Lehman, and from other recent examples of misleading conduct on Wall Street? I see three.

First, we must undo the damage done by decades of deregulation. That damage includes financial institutions that are “too big to manage and too big to regulate” (as former FDIC Chairman Bill Isaac has called them), a “wild west” attitude on Wall Street, and colossal failures by accountants and lawyers who misunderstand or disregard their role as gatekeepers. The rule of law depends in part on manageably-sized institutions, participants interested in following the law, and gatekeepers motivated by more than a paycheck from their clients.

Second, we must concentrate law enforcement and regulatory resources on restoring the rule of law to Wall Street. We must treat financial crimes with the same gravity as other crimes, because the price of inaction and a failure to deter future misconduct is enormous.

Third, we must help regulators and other gatekeepers not only by demanding transparency but also by providing clear, enforceable “rules of the road” wherever possible. That includes studying conduct that may not be illegal now, but that we should nonetheless consider banning or curtailing because it provides too ready a cover for financial wrongdoing.

The bottom line is that we need financial regulatory reform that is tough, far-reaching, and untainted by discredited claims about the efficacy of self-regulation.

But for regulation to be effective, it needs to be enforced. And clearly this hasn’t been the case for quite some time in DC as regulators appear curiously incompetent. Or perhaps they are simply compromised and corrupt. At a very high level.

Sorkin: Feds knew about Lehman Repo 105 deals, did nothing

That’s right, federal regulators knew Lehman was cooking the books and did nothing. Does anyone think none of them benefited personally from their deliberate inaction?

One comment

  1. I keep telling folks over and over again… while the pResidency of George AWOL “lips” Bush may very well indeed be The Worst Presidency Ever, mark no mistake, The Cheney Administration accomplished everything it set out to.

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