From the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan deregulated banks, through the two Bushes, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama, each administration has endorsed -- and each Congress has helped tweak -- laws and rules that made systemic financial industry criminality and the economic meltdown not only possible but inevitable.
Many investment bankers knew the mortgage loans they were packaging and selling were junk. They knew, if for no other reason than that their own analysts told them so. Tens of thousands of loans failed to meet basic underwriting standards, according to recent testimony before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a bipartisan group created to examine the causes of the meltdown. Not only that, Wall Street insiders were betting against their own customers, which proves they knew they had fraudulently peddled toxic junk that they had fraudulently represented and portrayed to their customers as something of quality and value.
Throughout the system, from the lending institutions to federal regulators to congressional overseers, those charged with protecting consumers simply averted their eyes. "Go along to get along" was their motto. And so it was that an economic catastrophe was allowed to unfold, as those in positions of power certainly must have known it eventually would.
The cozy relationship between Wall Street and Ivy League academia, in which economists pushed policies that benefitted them financially, needs further exploration -- by a special prosecutor. In some cases, business professors and economists at America's top universities were shown to have conflicts of interest, as they advocated and helped "sell' these policies to Congress. And for such service they were compensated directly by the banks or other large financial interests that benefitted from that service. It was part and parcel of the fraudulent schemes that were perpetrated on insufficiently informed (gullible & lied to) investors around the world.
And now we see that the same people who created policies that ultimately led to these abuses and crimes are still -- or were until recently -- running the show, politically and economically, in the US. Notably missing from the "Inside Job" film (being as how they declined to be interviewed) are Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Hank Paulson, Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin. And of course they wouldn't want to show their faces or honestly answer questions in an expose' like this. Why not? Because they know that any lies they told would be bald-faced and apparent. So of course none of these guys are going to consent to being questioned on camera -" not by this particular film maker anyway.
This is not to say that whatever benefits Wall Street necessarily hurts all Americans, or that all bankers are corrupt. And yet the system designed by members of Congress and the banksters who financially backed them clearly enabled the abuses and criminality that led to the financial and economic catastrophe that followed. As regards the swindling and fraud that precipitated the catastrophe, the attitude of the participants seemed to be that everyone else is doing it, so let's join the party and get our "fair share." "By the time everyone realizes what's been done to them, we'll hopefully be retired or at least employed elsewhere."
When the big banks failed, taxpayers were left holding the bag and ultimately paid for all the million-dollar bonuses as well as the hundreds of billions in fraud-based profits. Even though there was wide agreement that the bailouts were necessary to get credit moving again, there is simply no justification for the hundreds of billions in bonuses and golden parachutes that went to the very people who drove their institutions -- and us -- over a cliff. Reward for failure was the best gig in town, and thousands of Wall Streeters doubled or even tripled their wealth holdings, all at our expense.
Although most of what this film highlights is familiar, there's something jarring about seeing the culprits up close in all their taxpayer-subsidized and suntanned splendor, with their newly acquired multiple estates and private jets juxtaposed against boarded-up homes and consequently unemployed Americans, many living in tents. Obscene is the word that comes to mind. And for some of us, "class warfare."
And yet most Americans are still reluctant think in terms of "class warfare," and most still want to preserve a market system that leaves open the dream that they, too, can work hard and get rich. But it's clear from "Inside Job" that increasingly the game is rigged so that only a few can be in positions to get rich, and that many of those who were in these positions on Wall Street did what they did at the expense of the middle class, not just here in the US but globally.
Some of those interviewed, who evaded questions or gave completely dodgy answers, looked pretty stupid. Yet of course none of these guys, really, is stupid. Thus, the only remaining question is why some of these guys aren't being prosecuted for fraud -- because if they were on the stand and being questioned by a good prosecutor, they would sound just as stupid (and corrupt) there as they do in this film.
So it would seem, as never before, that the White House should hire a special prosecutor. Ferguson's movie, which President Obama and his economic team really should watch -" but won't -" will hopefully be followed by a sequel: "The Perp Walk."
What is the biggest threat to the world economy in the coming years? For some, it is global imbalances (deficits in some countries and surpluses in others). Others might say that the biggest threat consists of the currency wars that are on the horizon, or the bubbles in real estate, information technology and the Internet. Still others will tell you that unemployment can be a threat to the social welfare of communities and can topple governments.
Although you can name several other problems of today's economy, I doubt derivatives in financial markets would be a very common answer to this question, despite the fact that regulating the financial markets was allegedly one of the top priorities of the Obama campaign. Why not a common answer? Because the risky casino world of derivatives is the best kept secret of the financiers, who will continue to make hundreds of billions in profits from it (at our expense) as long as it continues to be unregulated and unmonitored by the government and the Internet.
Explanatory note: A derivative is a security whose price is dependent upon or is derived from one or more underlying asset prices. It is just a contract, does not have any value and its price fluctuates depending on the asset it relies on. Since the system is highly unregulated, nobody knows how big this market is; however, estimates say it is 20 times the size of the world's gross domestic product (GDP). (Remember when Iceland's banking system was hit by the crisis, the assets of banks were 10 times the GDP of the country). So, to the banksters the financial system looks like a giant casino where bets (contracts) are made on just about anything you can imagine and it is called insurance (remember AIG) or collateralized debt obligation (CDO) or swaps -- you name it. They are all rated AAA by the credit rating agencies and purchased by retirement funds. These derivatives were at the heart of the recent turmoil and caused a $20 trillion loss in welfare due to the crisis.