Monday, April 13, 2009

How we went from “Run, Greenspan, Run” to “Financial System Redux”

The financial downturn has been around so long now that we have to squint to remember the good times, fast rising technology company stock begat skyrocketing home prices which begat the worst economic downturn since the great depression.

The common thread throughout these bubbles was the growth of the financial segment of the US economy, it went from a rather stogy business in the 50’s and 60’s to an industry that produced people as famous and much richer than Hollywood by the 90’s.

Somewhere along the line white shoe banks started wearing Nike’s, deciding that they could rob Peter and avoid Paul, going into darker and darker alleys to hang with unsavory characters engaged in unseemly behaviors until the day came when they became the punk. Just like the toady in the old gangster movies they are alternately smarmy and condescending in the best of situations, and winey cowards when things get tough.

Just as the toady squeals like a pig at the first sign of paying for their deeds, these guys are trying to either grab the money and run or turn on their co-conspirators to lessen their own penalties. This is where the everyman for him self-credo of the Ayn Rand crowd gets to be a problem, while there may be honor among thieves, bankers have no similar code of ethics.

The savior has his hands full, and a staff that has its hand stuck in the financial mess like monkeys in a clay jar, unable to unclench the fist of complicity. The answer they have arrived at looks a lot like the question, and the tax payers are being asked to believe that our only hope is in the hands of Wall Street and Large Banks, teeing up the makers of this mess for a huge windfall while not risking enough to make a difference whatever happens.

We need to make a big change in the way the financial system works and the counterintuitive shift towards smaller banks with more to lose if things go wrong. The fact is that while the sporting world may benefit from the Major League Super Star driven business model banking has gone from a useful tool of commerce to a destructive force that has set unachievable expectations while rigging the pay system to reward them for the most banal of accomplishments.

We need a banking system that succeeds when the communities that it serves thrive, it is a critical element of the risk chain that allows economies to adapt and grow, making sure that the system is provided with relevant and timely feedback. When national and international banks took over the local banks a critical bit of information was removed from the local businesses, there was no way of understanding how many loans were failing until it was too late to spare the pain of a major downturn, and the bankers in turn are busy shoveling the pain out the door while handing out bonuses with tax payers money, they still believe they matter.
It is time to show the big dogs the door, letting them sink into extinction like the other failed species that have developed from a mutation into a moment of existence that was doomed as soon as the first $1 million birthday party was given with the plundered booty from our pension plans and 401K’s. The next conversation that I have with a banker is going to start with, “howdy neighbor”, and knowing that he will be boating on our local rivers instead of taking his helicopter to his place in the Hamptons will be a delightful feeling.