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Eliot Spitzer Calls Financial Self-Regulation a Canard

Posted by Larry Doyle on September 14, 2009 10:06 AM |

Eliot Spitzer

Say what you want about Eliot Spitzer, but in his pursuit of financial chicanery he took very few, if any, prisoners. Regrettably, his personal failings caused his demise at a time when the American public truly needed an advocate to unearth the failings in our financial regulatory structure.

Spitzer is slowly regaining his stature. He pulls no punches in taking on the many holes in our financial regulatory framework as he writes in The New Republic, Better Regulate Than Never. I commend Spitzer as he calls out the Wall Street self-regulatory oversight in writing:

We know markets are still the best way to allocate resources and to set prices and wages. But the first and essential corollary to any theory of markets should hold that they are fragile and must be protected. No matter how frequently large swaths of the world loudly shout, “We love the market!,” virtually nobody does. In the absence of rigorous enforcement of rules, market players seek monopoly power and unfair advantages; they take risks at the undisclosed expense of others, or violate fiduciary duty. None of this means these actors are “evil” or “immoral.” But their actions demonstrate that self-interest, unbridled by enforcement of rules, will destroy the very market so many people so ostentatiously claim to adore.

So, we can now dispose of that old canard that self-regulation preserves the integrity of markets. There is essentially no evidence that any self-regulatory entity–from the Securities Industry Association to the New York Stock Exchange–ever revealed or resolved a single structural flaw in the market place. Rather, they papered over and rationalized away all the bad behavior they witnessed. (LD’s highlight)

I totally concur. As much as financial self-regulatory organizations would promote that they are aggressively moving forward to clean up the industry, their historical track record belies that fact.

I would point out that Spitzer’s reference to the Securities Industry Association (SIFMA) is misplaced. SIFMA is merely a de facto trade organization rather than a real cop. Spitzer should have targeted FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), which is supposed to be the ‘tough cop.’ That said, I commend him for raising this topic.

Will our media and government pick up on Spitzer’s premise, elevate the debate, and serve the public interest? We have yet to witness any real concerted efforts by the media or the government on this front. Why? The media and the government serve at the behest of the financial industry to a far greater extent than they serve at the behest of the American public.

Spitzer sheds further light on this point by writing:

Our market has been–and will continue to be–undermined by regulators who are intellectually or ideologically unwilling to confront powerful market players. Too many of our regulators have been tarnished by the culture of Washington, where the constant movement between government and the private sector has created a fear of disrupting the status quo. It is an environment where stringent enforcement–the very type we needed–jeopardizes future confirmations, alienates potential clients, and engenders social ire. This cozy world isn’t exactly corrupt. Rather, it perpetuates an insidious process of socializing the regulators and the regulated alike. Everyone emerges accepting a way of doing business that ultimately fails the public and the economy.

I totally agree with Mr. Spitzer. Perhaps he is a regular reader of Sense on Cents!!

In all seriousness, where do we go from here? Do we allow the media and the government to neglect their public duty and continue protect Wall Street vs. Main Street?

Keep reading Sense on Cents as I will continue to bang the drum. Readers can help by spreading the word.


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