The question isn't whether or not regulation is lax and whether or not this happened, it's how to fix it. And this poses a big problem because of the revolving door between regulatory agencies and private banks. No one wants to regulate a company that might offer them a million dollar job one day. It's kind of a tough problem to fix, since the only people who know enough about financial industry to regulate it are the people who work for the industry. And if we prevented people from working for the industry they regulate in any capacity for say, up to 10 years after they leave their government job (is this even Constitutional?), much fewer people would want to work for the government or the Fed. But even so I think that kind of reform is necessary - because it will attract to government service only people who are serious about regulation.
In my opinion the only way to reliably fix this is to create a group similar to the one that the federal government created to end Al Capone's illegal activities during the Prohibition.
That group was nicknamed "The Untouchables" because they were fearless and incorruptible (by reputation, which is what's important). They were hand-picked by Eliot Ness, who reportedly went through the records of hundreds of Prohibition agents and personally identified a small group of them who were known for their honesty and integrity (as well as special skills, such as car tailing). What's remarkable about this group is that they were not only stubborn as hell but also extremely resilient to Capone's attempts at bribery and intimidation. Ness himself declined a bribe that was equal to his salary but would be paid to him monthly. They had a huge impact on bringing down the kingpin.
It's pretty clear that the regulators in charge of overseeing the financial industry today don't have this type of drive. To them, it's just a job. They are normal men and women who are up against groups of massive political power. As such, they are not in a position to do their jobs effectively. That's why the system is rife with rampant corruption.
Before you say I'm dramatizing, consider the possibility that Enron was just the tip of the iceberg, and under the surface there is ten Enrons that are propping up huge sectors of the economy with lies and deceit. Maybe ignorance is bliss and we should just let it operate like that. But truth has a habit of coming out sooner or later - and the sooner it comes out and everything comes crashing down, the sooner we can rebuild the system.
They go down in the historical category of bad people who get off by forcibly inflicting their immoral, mistaken ideology on others.
Comparing this persent witch hunt to that one is, ironically, very appropriate, I think.
If people inside financial institutions are, as common practice / policy, picking the winners/losers and hiding conflicts of interest, do you think that going after such people is a 'witch hunt?' Do you feel that when regulators meet with the people that they are regulating that they should have a "he looks honest, I'll just trust whatever he says" attitude?
Yes, I think it's a witch hunt. And any system with regulators "embedded" is a sick one. The proper thing to do is let the financial system self-regulate.
Of course at this point, that's like saying the proper thing for the Soviet Union to do when it fell was to suddenly become capitalist. Doing the right thing here would require an (additional and probably worse) period of sickness because we've been doing the unhealthy thing for decades.
Markets are great at solving lots of problems but they have blind spots. And one of them is the welfare of the people who are systemically connected, but not directly participating in the market. Human beings are not perfectly rational, and so neither are the markets that they make up. Until humans and markets are perfectly rational, we will need regulation to prevent gratuitous human suffering.
And if like most economic libertarians you're going to come back at with me with the absurd "It was too much regulation, not too little" argument (which I assume you will), we have very little to discuss.
> Of course at this point, that's like saying the proper thing for the Soviet Union to do when it fell was to suddenly become capitalist. Doing the right thing here would require an (additional and probably worse) period of sickness because we've been doing the unhealthy thing for decades.
Please explain to me exactly how the financial system will self-regulate. Also explain to me how the consequences of "creative destruction" will be borne by the people that are extracting the most value (i.e. "the 1%") from said system instead of the people that are just crushed beneath it?
What about Google prohibiting all employees to work for any supplier company for ten years? They sure could influence Google buying decisions.
Oh, let me tell you about the laziness! One of the developers I worked with would come to work at 11 am every single day and leave at 5 PM—sharp. He would then take a two hour lunch break.
It wouldn’t be so bad if he actually did some work, but there was none. I remember vividly this one incident: we were trying hard to meet a deadline and he was responsible for an important component. Every week, he would paint a rosy picture of his progress, saying he was THIS close to finishing the project. The week of the deadline comes and it’s time for him to lay down his cards—and surprise, surprise—there was no working code! All he produced was a jumbling mishmash of code that had no hope of working.
I spent the next week in the office writing this component.
Close to 70 hours. Unreal.
[Oh yeah, this guy was getting paid $130K, not to mention those sweet government bennies!]
His direct manager would complain about him all the time, and many meetings were asking him to improve his output. And yet, he was never punished. The truth is, when it comes to working at the Federal Reserve, your work output is not as important as who your friends are. And this guy had friends in high(er) places.
This guy is just one employee, but I believe it is just endemic of the kind of culture the Fed breeds. One of nepotism, of indolence, of apathy. I am truly scared for the future of this country knowing that these are the people behind the wheel.
Not even close. That metaphor would only be apt if there was literally video of a Federal Reserve employee accepting cash from an employee of a major bank with an explicit statement from the bank saying something along the lines of
"So you're going to keep the interest rates low so we can keep doing bond arbitrage instead of lowering rates for consumer lending right?"
Even then most people wouldn't care because they have no idea how financial institutions work.
How about saying that if FBI or DEA agents were banned from working or consulting for drug cartels and crime bosses after retiring that would be restriction of their employment prospects.
Are we living in some kind of twilight zone or is that what happens when debates a left to guys on HN?
Why can't American media simply call spades spades and simply come out and rather than say that Fed employees and bosses are simply weak and spineless, the simply say that they are corrupt and lacking in integrity?
In fact the media are the biggest problem here, because instead of calling out things at the right time they weasel around the whole issue and belatedly come out with 'startling new revelations' after the horse has bolted.
Why couldn't the Bloomberg journalists who revealed this information simply ask their employer about this? He could have told them about the Fed's dubiousness 30 years ago.
It is not clear that banking advice from GS is that great. Often times their customers are effectively the victim. If there was popular pressure to not deal with them they might clean up their act.
Since the regulator responsible for monitoring private financial institutions has failed, we along with universities, pensions, etc should stop investing in those financial institutions.
The above strikes me as very backwards. Isn't the appropriate response to fire the heads of the regulators, rebuild the agency to act on the recommendations that an outside body proposed to the regulators, and ensure that congress follows up to ensure changes have occurred.
Oh wait. Therein lies the problem, congress has been captured by the finance sector's lobbying, so I'm being idealistic and your proposal is not as backwards as I first thought. I'm starting to understand Lawrence Lessig's focus on removing money from election campaigns, so that we can have real government policy because that's the real root cause of issues like this.
Just the opposite: The Fed encourages its employees to
keep their heads down, to obey their managers and to
appease the banks. That is, bank regulators failed to do
their jobs properly not because they lacked the tools but
because they were discouraged from using them.
So long as they and the banks they are supposed to supervise stick to that they can do whatever they bloody want.
This is where the quality of debates on HN become so sucky and surreal.
Given that more than a few of the Treasury Secretaries, SEC bosses and what nots are ex Goldman Sachs et al employees, why do any intelligent people expect the Fed and other government agencies to regulate the banks properly, if the failure of the institutions they are supposed to regulate would result in the loss of the pensions the continue to receive from such institutions?
> Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), the top adviser on corporate takeovers, is changing its conflict-of-interest policy to bar investment bankers from trading individual stocks and bonds, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.
The bigger issue is that being a regulator in the U.S. is a shitty job. Half the country thinks we shouldn't even have regulators, and the other half blames regulators for not understanding what they're doing out of one side of their mouth while condemning anyone with industry experience who does know out of the other side. So no surprise that the regulators are deferential to the banks. At any given time they're one presidential election away from losing what little leverage they have.
Our regulatory system is the result of a clash of cultural values. One one hand we aren't comfortable with doing away with regulation. To the contrary, we demand it. On the other hand we think of regulatory bodies as leeching off "value-creating businesses" and condemn anyone who undertakes government service. Unsurprisingly, we get regulatory bodies that try not to rock the boat.
"Goldman had advised one energy company, El Paso Corp., as it sold itself to another energy company, Kinder Morgan, in which Goldman actually owned a $4 billion stake, and a Goldman banker had a big personal investment. The incident forced the Fed to ask Goldman to see its conflict of interest policy. It turned out that Goldman had no conflict of interest policy -- but when Segarra insisted on saying as much in her report, her bosses tried to get her to change her report. Under pressure, she finally agreed to change the language in her report, but she couldn't resist telling her boss that she wouldn't be changing her mind. Shortly after that encounter, she was fired.)"
Do you think it's a thoughtful policy for Goldman Sachs?
I know if I were one of the M&A parties, I would irate to find out that the supposed advisor had a personal stake that could have influenced how things shook out.
In any case, regulators are entrusted with making sure people follow the law, not some ethical code that differs from person to person.
Maybe we can start trading in ethics? /s
How can you seriously say that? It's fine to hurt people as long as they're willing to tolerate it or remain ignorant to it? Preying on ignorance isn't ethical even if it markets well.
Goldman had written materials about conflicts. Segarra claimed they weren't enough to a "policy" by her opinion. Her boss argued, it was a policy even if it was a really poor one. He didn't tell her to change the report to say they had a policy, he told her to change it to say Goldman's policy was very deficient and need to be improve a lot.
It's essentially a semantics argument, not some huge cover up.
And her boss's stance is arguably more detailed and accurate.
The fact that they refused to do this and instead bullied her into their own opinion is remarkable. If they'll do this for something so minuscule, imagine what they'll do for bigger issues.
The tapes aren't exposing that Goldman got away without a conflict of interest policy, they're exposing that the Fed is still refusing to let staff stand by their independent opinions.
Also keep in mind that at that point, he's quoting from the Beim report, which is not from the tapes. As Lewis and the episode say, that report was written by a Columbia Business School professor in 2009, at the request of the Fed.
A major issue is the regulations themselves are extraordinarily complicated and the regulatory regime is unclear. What you characterize as "deference" is more like this: the regulators don't know what regulations out of (literally) hundreds of thousands of pages' worth of regulation they can get away with enforcing or not enforcing, but for political reasons they might be called to enforce whatever regulations at whatever time, such as with the retroactive enforcing of mortgage regulations everyone was ignoring before 2007 because the political incentives were such that everyone should have access to mortgages. So regulators are incentivized--whether corrupt or not--to build soft, close relationships. (As an aside, regulators and banks are continually building sophisticated machine-learning algorithms that have access to all your financial data, as well as powerful search systems to find whatever a regulator might demand.)
Hobbes, writing in England in the 1600s, described the "silence of the law", wherein if the king's agents enforced all his laws his rule would quickly become tyrannical and lose legitimacy. Well, again, there are literally hundreds of thousands of pages of financial regulation, depending on who you ask, that can be characterized as "must follow". Enforcing them all would draw the wrath of most Republicans and moderates, because the world does need a financial system.
The regulators work softly because, honestly, they don't know what they are doing or are supposed to do. Banks try to get in bed with regulators because they don't want to end up like HSBC; people calling for their heads essentially because they were lazy about regulatory demands for an issue that ended up being politically sensitive. A large part of compliance nowadays is trying to predict what Congress cares about or might care about in the future. Regulators are glad to get the extra access. After all, when the political winds blow the right way, they have the real power. Otherwise, don't rock the boat.
There is also corruption--always, everywhere--but if I was to imagine how a "good" regulator could do his job in the way Michael Lewis demands, well, I can't imagine that ever happening.
But anyway, there are always bad people and there is always regulatory capture, but a robust system is one in which there is no excuse for bad things and good people are allowed to work honestly. My aim was to describe how financial regulation is broken even if it was full of good guys. In fact, what constitutes doing the "right thing" is hard to determine except in retrospect.
Anyway, IMO I think the issues come down to financial transactions being somewhat abstracted from 'morals'. Sure, people rarely get into finance to make the world a better place. But, it's hard to feel telling your friends to sell stock before bad news hit's is a bad idea. Toss in people chasing after a few points here and their to hit their bonus and the incentives tend to be messed up.
Many regulations seem reasonable when applied to a financial system, but seem arbitrary for any one transaction.
As cynicalkane points out, these regulations are far more complex than "don't be bad." You don't know who's got an ax to grind to enforce a regulation this year that's been lax for years before. Plus, IT is not cheap, generating all the reports vs paying a $50K fine? Just pay the fine, but now you're an evil big bank. You'll get over it.
If you'd prefer to cherry-pick, and boil Lewis's findings down to an innocuous sentence or two, then you're welcome to do so. But if you'd read his findings as a whole you can easily find much more damning material; for example, the following:
In meetings, Fed employees would defer to the Goldman people; if one of the Goldman people said something revealing or even alarming, the other Fed employees in the meeting would either ignore or downplay it. For instance, in one meeting a Goldman employee expressed the view that "once clients are wealthy enough certain consumer laws don't apply to them." After that meeting, Segarra turned to a fellow Fed regulator and said how surprised she was by that statement -- to which the regulator replied, "You didn't hear that."
Also, nothing alarming about the quote you just mentioned either. To the extent consumer laws consider sophistication of the consumer, its probably quite right. Sophisticated investors, for example, do not have many of the protections that apply to the general public.
Most likely the regulator simply didn't know what to make of what the Goldmanite had said (and might not have even been aware of the exemptions granted to accredited investors -- assuming those are applicable here). So (being in over his head) rather than confess his ignorance, he did what must have come naturally for him: he shat his (presumably male) pants, and told his co-worker to keep her trap shut.
(1) What the Goldmanite said was innocuous (and the regulator simply didn't know what to make of it -- i.e. yes, he must have not known about exemptions for accredited investors); or
(2) What the Goldmanite said was potentially quite troubling (and the regulator knew it), for reasons we don't know yet (due to the missing context).
Which it was, or even likely was, of course I cannot say. But the basic point is that the fact that the regulator tried to hush his colleague up in this situation is by itself quite troubling. Especially if it's part of a larger pattern.
Slow down in your urgent rush to minimize this release. At least read the whole article if listening to the piece is too much to ask.
Century of Enslavement: The History of The Federal Reserve
The big showdown on whether Goldman had a conflicts of interest policy came down to a difference of opinion that she was clearly in the wrong on. Her boss's request to amend her statement to say that they had one but it was totally inadequate should have been an easy one to agree to. Especially if the Fed's legal department was the one objecting to saying there was no policy.
Instead she comes across as extremely stubborn and unable to compromise or see other viewpoints besides her own. I would have fired her too just because she was so difficult to work with.
Silva does seem spineless in going out of the way to not verbally offend Goldman, but IMO that is more of a personality trait that him ignoring evidence.
Now she's suing wanting to be vindicated that she was really right all along and everyone else was wrong, and releasing the tapes to support that. Not a Goldman fan, but for this report there is really no moral outrage to be had.
And frankly, that would be a reason for you not to be a manager of Fed regulators.
The Beim report specifically, specifically, says the kind of dissent she represented is exactly what the Fed needs.
And she did offer options, that she could simply be overruled if her superiors disagreed. This is how it should work. If they disagree, they need to personally be taking responsibility for that disagreement, not forcing the employee to change their views.
Not to mention it's pretty clear Goldman had no operative conflict of interest policy. They've simply been in blatant conflict too often for it to be believable there's anything limiting it.
The issue is when she knowingly states as fact something that is not accurate (i.e. there is NO policy). That crosses the line into slander since it can cause reputational and financial harm to the institution being investigated.
Even more importantly, by one regulator giving the appearance of "gunning" for Goldman it jeopardizes the work of countless others who also have findings and research that may actually be true.
I don't see why consensus is such a necessary issue. We don't have consensus in any part of our government, but we are quite happy having dissenting supreme court justices write their own opinions. Why can't regulators also have dissenting opinions? The health of our economy is far more important than anyone's personal feelings in the matter.
Not "unable to compromise or see other viewpoints besides her own." More like unwilling to put down in writing that 2+2==5, just because her boss said so. Or to sit silently and be a party to gross malfeasance (at taxpayer's expense), generally.
But with your own cocky dismissal of her actions, it sounds like you'd do very well at a company like Goldman.