Friday, March 20, 2009

The End of Wall Street's Cognitive Hegemony

Simon Johnson explains how the rage over AIG bonuses is transforming the politics of the bailout more generally:
We have moved far beyond financial policy and into the kind of scandal that really gets taxpayers’ backs up.  The greed of bankers slaps you in the face while the hubris of their leadership remains unchecked.

There is no sense of responsibility, no feeling of shame, no acknowledgment of any kind of mistake: read Lloyd Blankfein’s FT article again - or print it out and tape it to your wall.  Because we now know, from the newly disclosed AIG counterparties list, that the wealth of Goldman Sachs insiders remains high solely because we saved their sorry bank, their failed risk management strategy, and their pretence of wisdom with our cash in mid-September.

This resentment against bankers pervades Congress, and even the Administration begins to get the message - being called "asinine" yesterday by Richard Kovacevich, the Chairman of Wells Fargo, may have helped underline to Treasury how deeply the bankers appreciate the help they have received.  There can be no resolution and no moving on until there has been a proper congressional investigation, with full subpoena powers, into exactly what did and did not happen around AIG.  This will take months and may well slow down the economy (Jamie Dimon’s clever point: if you vilify us, you will lose), but it is now inescapable.  And, if channeled productively, this kind of hearing may lead to a better regulatory system (and smaller big banks) than the current anemic proposals on the table - as last weekend indicated, the G20 process is currently worse than useless on this issue.

Maybe we are finally witnessing the undoing of what John Robb acutely characterized as "an utterly complete cognitive regulatory capture of the US government" by the finance sector.

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