[Revised Version of Op-Ed Piece Published Litchfield County Times November 3, 2011]
“Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.” King James Bible, Luke 6:42
Fast on the heels of the conviction and sentencing of Raj Rajaratnmam, Galleon Group’s disgraced hedge fund honcho, to 11 years of hard time we have the surrender and arrest of Rujat K. Gupta last week. Both are inadequate and feeble attempts by the Government and the Securities and Exchange Commission to bring order and justice to the financial markets and fall far short of the mark.
Today the tsunami of greed destroyed another victim, MF Global Holdings. Formerly a staid derivative trading firm that Jon Corzine, the former Senator from and Governor of the Garden State, who spent over $65 million for that dubious privilege, tried to shape into a mini Goldman Sachs, that revered temple of greed. Well his leveraged $40 in debt to $1 in equity bet on European sovereign debt went belly up putting his $12 million golden parachute in jeopardy. By the way, it seems that, according to the New York Times, $700 million of clients’ funds may be missing. But that’s a story for another day.
But back to old Raj who was convicted of insider trading and benefited according to the pre sentence report to more than $72 million in illegal profits. He was ordered to forfeit only $53.8 million, a very small portion of his fortune. Gupta is charged with “becom[ing] the illegal eyes and ears in the boardroom for his friend and business associate, Raj Rajatnam, who reaped enormous profits from Mr. Gupta’s breach of duty.” Gupta’s breach of duty apparently did not earn him illegal financial rewards, or at least none have been unearthed to date. The pending indictment is silent on this point.
The SEC is hypocritically focusing on insider trading as if this was the sole illegal activity that had taken place on Wall Street and in the global financial markets. Yes, 56 people have been charged with insider trading in the last two years and 51 of those have pleaded guilty or have been convicted. But we are talking of mere millions in illegal profits or losses for investors. That is the “mote” in your brother’s eye. What about the billions, if not trillions of dollars, pounds and euros in profits that have flowed into the pockets of individuals and financial institutions prior to and subsequent to the present recession? The “beam” still imbedded in the eye of our economy that the Government fails to acknowledge or remedy.
There is no question that greed is the motivating factor behind insider trading. That greed should and must be curtailed, prosecuted and punished. But in the greater scheme of things that greed is small potatoes, a couple of hundred thousand dollars here and a couple of million dollars there. What about real greed, greed with a capital “C” like in Countrywide Financial, the failed mortgage company that had been acquired by Bank of America. Now we are not talking millions, we are talking billions of dollars in profits and resulting loses. As I write there are no pending investigations much less indictments in that massive fraud. Why?
Insider trading is a mere side show to the real financial scandal. The real action took place under Wall Street’s Big Top where AIG, Lehman Brothers. Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns and others were the ringmasters urging all to gorge on worthless mortgage backed securities and pocket obscene commissions and bonuses. That’s where the billions and trillions in greed played out. The end result was that according to one private academic estimate [New York University] as of January, 2009 $3.6 trillion was lost. The official Federal Reserve figures [March, 2011] put the total loss at “$19.4 trillion [in 2010 dollars) in household wealth from June 2007 to March 2009” and that “American families lost $6.4 trillion in home value during this period.”
The motley crew that has mounted the “Occupy Wall Street” protests in New York, Hartford, Oakland and other cities may not have an agenda, demands or program. After all they are amateurs with nary a lobbyist amongst them. But they have identified a universal ill that affects us all irrespective of age, race, sex and economic status, unregulated greed.
The United States turned a blind eye to greed and bailed out our banks and financial institutions to the detriment of the 99% that OWS ostensibly represents. The European Union facing its own sovereign debt financial meltdown has apparently taken heed. The latest rescue plan still in the making requires that private investors take a 50% loss on the face value of Greek debt while those who shorted Greek bonds betting on a default are left out in the cold.
“Greed is good” was Gordon Gekko’s Wall Street mantra. But that was yesterday before the financial meltdown, before this recession with it 15 million unemployed. America can not afford to lose another $19.4 trillion in household wealth to greed. Unregulated greed is a commodity that we can no longer afford.