In a shocking new survey commissioned by the Labaton Sucharow law firm, Wall Street insiders say that breaking the law, screwing your clients and covering up crimes is a way of life on Wall Street. The shock is not that cheating is going on.
We all know that.
The shock is that these financiers would actually admit it on a survey. This should tell us that the Wall Street culture is so brazenly corrupt, so confident of not getting caught, so certain that a passive public won't fight back that those surveyed didn't even bother to lie about the fact that they were living, breathing sociopaths.
Here are some of the key findings of this sample of 250 traders, portfolio managers, investment bankers, hedge fund professionals, financial analysts, investment advisors, asset managers and stock brokers.
Catch me if you can!
"24% of financial services professionals likely would engage in insider trading to make $10 million... if they wouldn't get arrested. That figure surges to 38% for individuals with 10 years or less in the industry."
Screw your clients.
"28% of financial services professionals feel that the financial services industry does not put clients' interests first."
They do it, so we have to do it too.
"More than half of respondents - 52% - felt it was likely that their competitors have engaged in unethical or illegal activity to gain an edge in the market; 24% felt employees at their own company likely have engaged in misconduct to get ahead."
Guess what? We still are cheating.
"Misconduct is still widespread in the financial services industry; 23% of respondents indicated that they had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace."
To rise in a criminal organization, you have to be a criminal.
"Looking at seniority, 36% of respondents with 10 years or less experience in the industry believed financial services professionals may have to engage in misconduct to get ahead."
The boss loves it when you cheat.
"17% of respondents felt that if leaders of their organization suspected that a top performer was earning large profits from insider trading, they likely would ignore the problem. More alarming, 15% of professionals in the industry believed that if leaders of their organization learned that a top performer had engaged in insider trading, they were unlikely to report that crime to law enforcement or regulatory authorities."
(Bloomberg News columnist Jonathan Weil comes to Wall Street's defense by calling the survey a "worthless smear" because it's not a scientific sample. But "scientific" or not, he has no explanation at all for why sizable percentages of these 250 respondents are so ethically challenged.)
Are the big banks and hedge funds criminal enterprises?
Given the attitudes of our financial elites, you would expect bad things to happen. The list of high crimes and misdemeanors is mind boggling, and growing every day.
- Design mortgage related securities so that they will fail in order to bet against them. (See How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour for all the gory details.)
- Unlawfully foreclose on 700 military families.
- Money launder for drug cartels.
- Collude with illegal payday loan sharks.
- Fail to live up to settlement to provide mortgage revisions.
- Sell billions of dollars worth of bogus insurance policies that are supposed to provide payment protection for ill or unemployed mortgage holders, but actually provide no coverage at all.
- Let the London Whale gamble with federally insured money and then lose $6 billion, and then refuse to provide documentation to regulators.
- Lie to your colleagues in the media in order to move markets your way. (Jim Cramer's confession.)
- Illegally trade on insider information. (71 hedge fund traders plead guilty or are convicted in the last two years.)
- Hedge funds spread false rumors about European banks to cause runs.
- High frequency traders milk investors.
- Collude to manipulate basic interest rates (LIBOR) that effect trillions of dollars of debt.
- Engage in predatory lending to rip off cities, towns and school systems.
- Rating agencies turn tricks for cash by giving out thousands of bogus AAA ratings.
What more evidence do we need before concluding that "the Street" is beyond redemption? Regulatory enforcement is weak and the new regulations are weaker still. It's a fools errand to think we can control trillion-dollar banks and billionaire hedge fund honchos. The only hope is to destroy finance as we know it.
It's time to think outside the box. We should be demanding what we really want, rather than begging for minor reforms that are certain to fail. Here's a plan that just might work:
1. Set up 50 state banks like the one in North Dakota. Set the top salary at no higher than five times the median wage within the state. At the Bank of North Dakota, the top officers average less than a chauffeur for a hedge fund mogul.)
2. Nationalize the 20 largest banks and set the top salary at no more than the President of the United States ($400k, $50k expenses, no stock options). "What, live on just $400,000? You must be mad." Just think of how many financiers, young and old, would flee Wall Street for other professions. Just think of how many scams would grind to a halt. After all if you can't make your $10 million on a trade by cheating, why bother?
3. Pass a Financial Transaction Tax - a sales tax on all stocks, bonds, derivatives etc. That would bring the high-frequency trading racket to a grinding halt and slow down the financial hustlers.
When discussing proposals such as these during media interviews, the usual response is incredibly fatalistic -- "The genie is out of the bottle." "Global finance is here to stay and we can't do much about it." "They have the money to buy political power." "They'll always find a way to cheat."....
These are the very words bankers love to hear. These are the thoughts that will allow ever increasing inequality and ever larger financial crashes and bailouts. Sure, we're getting our butts kicked right now, and it's so much easier to ignore the incredible rip-offs than to fight. But our runaway financial system won't leave us alone. They're siphoning away the nation's wealth and they won't let up...ever. At the very least we should by asking for what we really want, what we really think will work, and what we really think is fair and just.
I'll wager that 100 years from now, people will look back at this period and say, "How the hell did you let these bankers ruin the world? Why didn't you take them over when they were down on their knees begging for bailouts? Why didn't you set up a public financial system that served the country rather than the financial elites --- just like we have now ....and it works!"