Tag Archives: white collar crime

>The Misguided Outcry for "Perp Walks"

>It is bad enough to hear the lie that capitalism caused our economic crisis repeated ad nauseum by both the dishonest and the clueless. It is even worse to hear some of the “solutions” proposed by the incoming presidential administration and other hardcore Keynesians; now that most people are convinced that “laissez faire” is to blame for our troubles (as if the outgoing regime wasn’t as Keynesian as Keynes himself). Worst of all, since the so-called “experts” have been so wrong, even blow-dried talk show hosts feel empowered to render their completely uninformed opinions. None have been more annoying than the latest outcry over the lack of “perp walks” during the sub-prime meltdown and subsequent economic disaster.

The argument, if one could call it that, is that although the government has failed in the past to regulate properly to avoid economic crises, they have at least prosecuted the greedy perpetrators who supposedly caused them. For example, during the accounting scandals of the early 2000’s, Ken Lay, John Rigas, and Bernie Ebbers were just a few of the executives who were prosecuted and sentenced to particularly harsh jail terms for their roles in the demises of their respective companies. The SEC even took the bizarre step of prosecuting Arthur Anderson – not its executives, but the corporation itself – proving that even imaginary entities were not beyond the long, destructive arm of the federal government. Supposedly, these headline-making witch hunts “send a message” to the rest of the high finance class that it’s time to clean up its act. It also seems to make financial talk show hosts (who seem to learn nothing about economics no matter how long they remain on their jobs) feel much better about things, no matter how little these prosecutions have to do with the economic problems said hosts pretend to report on. Of course, ratings never suffer when the wealthy are marched off to the prisoner’s dock.

During this crisis, however, there have been no such prosecutions for the “fraud” everyone keeps talking about as if it actually played a major role in the mortgage meltdown. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that there was fraud committed, and the perpetrators should be prosecuted. However, both the media and most of the public continue to demonstrate their complete lack of a sense of proportion when they point to fraud related to tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars while we are experiencing a crisis involving TRILLIONS of dollars. We can burn all of the witches we want, but it won’t get us any closer to solving this crisis. As our socialism bubble continues to deflate, we must confront the systemic problems that caused it or they will finish devouring what is left of our once powerful economy.

It is a little too easy to simply dismiss the lack of prosecutions as the Bush administration refusing to go after its friends during their waning days in office. No matter how friendly they may have been to Wall Street (at our expense) over the past eight years, they have not hesitated to turn on their friends at the first sign of trouble, as the above-mentioned prosecutions demonstrate. Ken Lay in particular seemed to be a close personal friend of President Bush, but when the heat came, Mr. Lay found that door firmly closed. No, close ties to Wall Street are not the reason for the lack of prosecutions for fraud in this crisis.

As I’ve said before, this latest crisis was not caused by fraud or even greed, it was caused by theft. To understand this, one must acknowledge all of the parties in the transactions in question. Whether it is out of ignorance or by design, our politicians and media[1] consistently fail to acknowledge one of the parties. It is hard to give them the benefit of the doubt, because this omission is crucial to promoting their great lie, the failure of free markets.

For example, when talking about sub-prime loans, the only parties acknowledged are the borrower and the lender. Supposedly, the “predatory lenders” misled the borrowers about the terms of the loans, duping them into taking more risk than they should have. At the same time, many borrowers were irresponsible or even dishonest in taking on more debt than they could afford. Even those lenders that did not perpetrate some kind of crime in misleading the borrowers were at least grossly irresponsible because of their “lax lending standards.” So, the case is made that these two parties, acting freely as economic agents in a supposedly laissez faire environment, made bad decisions causing enormous losses that could have been prevented with more regulation. Thus, it is more regulation that is needed to prevent a similar catastrophe from occurring again.

The obvious question that one would ask is why anyone needs to be protected from the consequences of their own actions. If the lenders or borrowers take too much risk, they may lose their money. However, it is their money to lose, and if they lose it, what harm could this do to anyone else?

The answer lies in the true nature of the transactions in question. The argument above assumes there were two parties to each loan, when in fact there were three. However, unlike the borrower and the lender, the third party – the taxpayer – WAS NOT acting freely. The third party was forced to put up his or her money as collateral, without which not one sub-prime loan would have occurred. Moreover, the mortgage-backed securities that are playing such a pervasive role in the collapse of the financial system also would not have been sold had the purchasers not been assured that the government was backing the loans. This was nothing resembling a failure of free markets. It was an easily predictable consequence of government distorting the financial system and the economy by intervention into the markets. As is always ultimately the case, its intervention boils down to armed theft of property. Regardless of the fraud that may have been committed by lenders or borrowers, it was this crime by government that is responsible for the crisis.

Obviously, this is the reason that we haven’t seen “perp walks.” It is unlikely that our federal government is ever going to indict itself for any of its crimes, no matter who is president or what party has a majority in Congress. As for the private sector, the truth of the matter is that most of the conduct by the lenders actually amounted to them doing exactly what the government told them to do. They relaxed their lending standards because government pressured them to give loans to people that they wouldn’t have otherwise lent to, using money stolen from us to remove the onerous risk. Had the lenders been more responsible, they faced charges of discrimination against minorities or other disingenuous “fairness policies” designed to help our government achieve its age-old socialist dream of forced equality. In fact, as I’ve said before here, even the executives at Fannie Mae began to come forward and express concern about the risk that the GSE’s were taking on. What was the answer from our government? The GSE’s were told that they weren’t doing enough; they should be “helping” more people. Government stole money from us to cover bets that even their own people were telling them were losers.

Therefore, if there are going to be any perp walks, it should be members of the federal government themselves that should be doing the walking. While we are making arrests, let’s not let the guilty from past presidential administrations escape justice. As I’ve previously argued, it was really the Clinton administration that sowed the seeds of this crisis. It was Clinton that raised the GSE’s to such prominence and pushed through legislation making it a crime to deny a mortgage. Even using the government’s faulty reasoning[2] that a lack of regulation is to blame, it was Clinton that signed the bill repealing the Glass Steagall Act and paving the way for the government-enabled speculation that followed.

Ironically, as bad as the Bush administration has been in so many other ways, it was actually their failure to reverse these Clinton policies that represents their most significant contribution to the mortgage crisis. Most importantly, neither Clinton, nor Bush, nor the majority of the members of Congress can deny their guilt in the central crime that has been perpetrated. They all had a hand in government theft of property. For these perp walks, the federal marshals won’t have to fly to Chicago or New York to make the arrests. They need only walk down the street.

[1] I still observe the quaint practice of referring to them as if they were separate entities.
[2] The Glass Steagall Act is another of those FDR regulatory schemes that is only perceived as necessary because of risks that ultimately exist because of government’s improper involvement in the economy.