Monday, June 18, 2012

Is Wall Street safer than it was before the financial crisis?

In his Bloomberg column, William Cohan observed

I often get asked a Wall Street variation of the Ronald Reagan 1980 campaign saw, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” 
To wit: Are we safer than we were four years ago? Will the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and the regulations that the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are busy writing and rewriting prevent a recurrence of the kind of financial meltdown that we experienced in 2007 and 2008? 
Just as in November 1980, the answer is easy: a resounding no. Neither Dodd-Frank nor the Volcker Rule nor bank-capital requirements nor the other regulations that will ultimately get written -- with a lot of help from Wall Street’s lawyers and lobbyists -- will change the behavior of the hundreds of thousands of bankers, traders and executives who work on Wall Street and who do the things every hour of every day that slowly but surely have had a tendency to lead to the collective action that cause financial crises. 
People are pretty simple: They do what they are rewarded to do. At this very moment on Wall Street, smart, well-educated people are being rewarded to take big risks with other people’s money. Because that’s what they get paid to do -- often in the millions of dollars each year -- it is hardly surprising that they continue to do it.... 
Why does this kind of gambling continue unabated? Why does Wall Street continue to serve best the people who work there at the expense of the entrepreneurs and businessmen who actually rely on our markets to provide their businesses with the capital needed to hire workers, build plants and equipment, and try to provide people with a better life?
The gambling continues because Wall Street is not required to provide ultra transparency and disclose on an on-going basis its current asset, liability and off-balance sheet exposure details.

This type of transparency is the equivalent of having to show all of your cards in poker.  

Not surprisingly, ultra transparency ends gambling.  If you are required to show all your cards and other players are not, it greatly reduces your willingness to bet.

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