Sunday, July 8, 2012

Guardian's Heather Stewart calls for 'proper banking inquiry'

In her Guardian column, Heather Stewart calls for a 'proper banking inquiry', think Pecora Commission, based on the simple fact that the extraordinary hold banks have gained over politicians makes them incapable.

Regular readers know that since the beginning of the financial crisis, there has not been a true, properly funded inquiry into the financial system in either the US or UK.

As a result, without a true understanding of what gave rise to the financial crisis, we have had policymakers and financial regulators covering their backside by proposing all sorts of new regulations approved of by the banking industry that have not addressed the underlying problem.

Your humble blogger has been saying since the beginning of the financial crisis that it is a crisis caused by opacity and the solution is transparency.  Transparency that provides market participants with all the useful, relevant information in an appropriate, timely manner so they can make a fully informed investment decision.

Supporting evidence for this diagnosis is abundant.  Examples include, but are not limited to,  opaque, toxic structured finance securities, JP Morgan's credit default swap trade, and now the manipulation of Libor.

Should the UK engage in a 'proper banking inquiry', just like the Pecora Commission in the 1930s, it will find that opacity is the underlying problem and call for the sunshine of transparency, rather than a mountain of new regulations, to act as the best disinfectant of the financial system.
The Treasury select committee's ineffectual clash with the former Barclays boss shows just why MPs might not be best placed to investigate the financial sector. 
Watching Wednesday's gruelling (for viewers) three-hour Treasury select committee hearing, .... We certainly learned more about the state of parliamentary democracy in 21st-century Britain than the inner workings of Barclays. 
For one thing, the links between the mighty financial sector and the men and women who are meant to represent the public are deep and complex.....
The inescapable conclusion to draw .... that a Commons inquiry, even one chaired by the independent-minded Andrew Tyrie, would be too weak, and too hamstrung by private interests and political point-scoring to succeed. 
The extraordinary hold Britain's banking sector has gained over Westminster and the reins of economic power over the past 25 years is a story that transcends political parties and extends before and beyond the financial crisis of 2008-9. 
For Thatcher's Tories, unleashing the City in the Big Bang reforms of 1986 meant building a more go-getting, entrepreneurial economy where capital would flow freely and "wealth creators" could flex their muscles. 
For Labour, which consciously wooed the money men to win their confidence in the early 1990s, a strong City meant bumper tax revenues to be spent on the health service, schools and infrastructure. Both parties enjoyed the swagger that came with attracting some of the world's best-known financial firms – Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, UBS – to the heart of the City and the gleaming towers of Canary Wharf. 
Yet not only did those freewheeling financial capitalists not bring the new, shiny economy and the permanent prop for the public finances the politicians hoped for, they also skewed and corrupted business and society in their image.....
And it wasn't just their double-shot lattes and graph-paper shirts the American bankers brought with them. A big bucks, heads-I-win-tails-you-lose bonus culture, which took root on trading floors in the 1980s (seeLiar's Poker) and was given a sheen of respectability by business school neologisms such as "incentivisation", led to a pay explosion as profits soared. 
Once bankers were raking it in, other bosses who had once held their own with the City boys wanted to get in on the act, and the age of remuneration consultants, "golden parachute" rewards for failure and seven-figure bonuses had well and truly arrived across corporate Britain. 
But out in the real world, meanwhile, little of the money being churned around London's financial markets found its way into productive investments to build up the capacity of the economy for the long term. 
Some went to fuel an unsustainable property boom, convincing hundreds of thousands of people they could be buy-to-let millionaires; but much of it was just lent back and forth between a handful of giant financial players placing ever riskier bets. 
And those tax revenues that were so useful for Gordon Brown in the age of "prudence" and "stability" went up in smoke when taxpayers were forced to spend tens of billions of pounds bailing out the financiers, who were anything but grateful, let alone humble. 
The public deserves a thoroughgoing, independent inquiry into the culture, structure and economic impact of banking, because they know that politicians of all stripes – just like the rest of us – have been taken for a ride.

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