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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Obama & Wall Street: 'Moderation in the Pursuit of Justice'

The Limits of Triangulating

Now that Congress has passed financial reform legislation, aren't people upset about past Wall Street abuses just being scolds and cranks?

Shouldn't they -- we -- just get over ourselves?

My answer is "no," because the abuses aren't past.

On the contrary, shockingly little has changed (never mind accountability for misdeeds).

Financial Reform Scorecard

To review, here is a litany of all the things that went wrong leading up to the crash:

Wall Street actively encouraged subprime lenders to lower their already low standards — and then bought those loans knowing they were likely to default, but not caring. Traders up and down Wall Street made millions in bonuses selling products that were “ticking time bombs.” Moody’s, one of the three big credit ratings agency, quadrupled its profits in seven years by handing out triple-A ratings like candy. Regulators ignored impassioned entreaties to investigate fraudulent lending practices and excessive leverage. These were not anomalies. This was standard operating procedure in the years before the crisis.

--Joe Nocera, "Still Stuck in Denial on Wall Street"; The New York Times (10/2/2010)

So all that's different now, right?

Not exactly.

The big banks aren’t being broken up, the way they were in the 1930s. Bankers aren’t being hauled off to jail. No serious effort has been made to rein in executive compensation — or even to claw back millions of dollars in bonuses that were based on what turned out to be illusory profits. Most of the financial practices and products that brought us to the brink remain legal under the new Dodd-Frank legislation — though they will, finally, be regulated.

--Joe Nocera, "Still Stuck in Denial on Wall Street"

Splitting the Difference

When confronted with knotty social issues -- gays in the military, abortion, immigration policy, etc. -- splitting the difference (dubbed "triangulating" in the Clinton years) is smart politics.

When confronted with overwhelming evidence of egregious lawbreaking and greed, the consequences of which have cost millions of people their jobs, homes, and savings -- triangulating is a terrible political strategy.

FDR understood that when he said, "“Wall Street is unanimous in its hate for me — and I welcome their hatred."

So did Barry Goldwater, that bleeding heart Socialist, who famously said: 'extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.'

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