CONSUMERS DON’T COUNT
EDITOR’S COMMENT: Fascism is a system in which the government is essentially run by business. The premise of fascism is that successful commerce (as measured by the government that is controlled by business) leads to a successful society. Italy tried it and we know what happened there. Like anywhere else, including the United States, without the government being the referee in the marketplace, it is only BIG BUSINESS that succeeds — leaving small business, entrepreneurs, innovation, and consumers to eat dirt.
When regulators know their next job, and their future prospects will come from the banks they are regulating they essentially submit themselves to the control of their future employers. That is what has happened in banking. That is what has happened with our government. And that is why the elephant in the living room is being ignored.
The current PLAYBOOK of the banks, duly followed by most regulators and virtually all members of congress and virtually all legislatures around the country (except Hawaii?), is looking for a way out of the mortgage mess by having regulators intervene in what is essentially state law and what has clearly been gross negligence at best, and malfeasance or criminal activity on the part of the banks at worst. The victims are clearly identified — investors who bought the falsely valued mortgage bonds that were nothing like what was described and homeowners who bought the falsely valued loan products based upon falsely valued real estate in deals that were nothing like what was described.
In short, the Banks wish to use their unbridled control over government and in particular the regulators, to redefine banking, risk law and morality so that they can escape the criminal prosecution that followed the savings and loan scandal of the 1908’s where over 800 bankers went to jail. (yes that’s right, as a class, they have a prior criminal record, so this time their punishment should be worse).
While the main action is in court where the banks are losing ground every day just by looking at the truth, the facts, the evidence and the results of their mean-spirited creation of the illusion of securitization, citizens (consumers, past and present) must be ever vigilant and raise hell when they are doing something that is plainly bad for the country and bad for our children and grandchildren. Let your representatives and the regulators know in writing that you don’t approve of the job they are doing regulating the banks or in the handling of the foreclosure crisis which now looks like it will persist for decades.
The goal is NOT to preserve the health of the banks at all costs. The goal, as clearly set forth in our constitution and in case law going back centuries, is to protect and serve the members of the society that have agreed to a form of governing themselves. If that goal changes, then government is spurious. Government becomes our jailers instead of our protectors and if they won’t protect us against financial terrorism and we let them, what is to prevent them from deciding that it is “best for the country” (meaning themselves) to cease protecting us from anything else, including military threat.
May 19, 2011, 5:00 am
When Regulators Side With the Industries They RegulateBy SIMON JOHNSON
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is one the most important bank regulators in the United States — an independent agency within the Treasury Department that is responsible for “national banks” (for more on who regulates what in the United States, see this primer).
Over the last decade, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency repeatedly demonstrated that it was very much on the side of banks, for example with regard to fending off attempts to impose more consumer protection. (James Kwak and I covered this in “13 Bankers,” and those details have not been disputed by the agency or anyone taking its side.)
After suffering some serious and well-deserved loss of prestige during the financial crisis of 2007-9, the comptroller’s office survived the Dodd-Frank reform legislation and is now back to pushing the same agenda as before. In its view and that of its senior staff — including key people who remain from before the crisis — the “safety and soundness” of banks requires, above all, not a lot of protection for consumers.
This is a mistaken, anachronistic and dangerous belief.
Probably the most egregious mistake made by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency during the subprime boom was to push back against state officials who wanted to curtail malpractice in housing loans, including predatory lending.
The comptroller’s office ultimately lost that case before the Supreme Court, but its delaying action meant that an important potential brake on abuse and excess was not available — which contributed to the worst business practices that took hold in 2006 and 2007 (see this nice summary or Eliot Spitzer’s account).
Naturally, post-debacle the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency talks an ostensibly better game but, as Joe Nocera put it, “it sure looks as though the country’s top bank regulator is back to its old tricks.” In discussions regarding a potential settlement on mortgage foreclosures — and how they have been handled — the comptroller’s office has supported an outcome that is more favorable to the banks (see the Nocera column for more details).
Now it is again insisting that federal regulation pre-empts the ability of states to regulate in a way that would protect consumers.
In a letter on May 12 to Senator Thomas Carper, Democrat of Delaware, the agency asserted that its pre-emption regulations are consistent with the Dodd-Frank Act (see this interpretation by Sidley Austin, a law firm, which I draw on). There is a lot of legalese in the letter but the basic issue is simple — are states allowed to protect their consumers vis-à-vis national banks, or do they have to rely on the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, despite its weak track record?
The comptroller’s office is clear — the states are pre-empted, meaning that national comptroller regulations will always overrule them on the issues that matter. (As a technical matter, the issue comes down to what is known as visitation: whether state-level authorities can gain access to bank documents if the bank or the comptroller’s office has not already determined that there is a problem.)
The American Bankers Association was, not surprisingly, delighted: “The O.C.C.’s action helps clarify the rules of the road for national banks and how they serve their customers.”
Richard K. Davis, chief executive of U.S. Bancorp and then chairman of the Financial Services Roundtable, a powerful lobbying group, emphasized the importance of the pre-emption issue to national banks in March 2010, during the Dodd-Frank financial reform debate in the Senate: “If we had one thing to fight for, it would be to protect pre-emption.”
It is hard to know which would seem more incredible to a second grader: that we left in place the same agency that was responsible for a significant part of past misbehavior, or that this agency seems determined to continue with the same philosophy and policies.
The problem is not that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency sees its primary duty as the “safety and soundness” of the financial system. Rather, the danger to the public arises because it has consistently taken the view that the best way to protect banks — and keep them out of financial trouble — is to allow them to be harsh with consumers.
This is worse than short-sighted — it completely ignores all externalities, such as how business practices and ethics evolve, and it pays no attention to even the most basic macroeconomic dynamics, such as the fact that we have a credit cycle during which we should expect lenders to “race to the bottom” in terms of standards.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency should have been abolished by Dodd-Frank. Unfortunately, it is too late for Congress to revisit this issue. President Obama should at the very least nominate a new head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — the job has been open since August of last year — and a serious reformer could make a great deal of difference.
Under its current leadership and with its current approach, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is putting our financial system into harm’s way. The lessons of 2007-9 have been completely lost on it. As Talleyrand said of the Bourbons, “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”
Filed under: bubble, CDO, CORRUPTION, currency, Eviction, foreclosure, GTC | Honor, Investor, Mortgage, securities fraud Tagged: | BANK REGULATION, banks, CONSUMERS, Dodd-Frank Act, Eliot Spitzer, foreclosures, James Kwak, mortgage fraud, OCC, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Simon Johnson