More about what our best and brightest have been doing. Are you old enough to remember the days when our b&b went into research, medicine, or engineering, or other roles in which they could put their talents to use for the benefit of their fellow human beings? Krugman writes,
Sure enough, last week the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the Gucci-loafer guys at Goldman of engaging in what amounts to white-collar looting.
I’m using the term looting in the sense defined by the economists George Akerlof and Paul Romer in a 1993 paper titled “Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit.” That paper, written in the aftermath of the savings-and-loan crisis of the Reagan years, argued that many of the losses in that crisis were the result of deliberate fraud.
Was the same true of the current financial crisis?
Most discussion of the role of fraud in the crisis has focused on two forms of deception: predatory lending and misrepresentation of risks. Clearly, some borrowers were lured into taking out complex, expensive loans they didn’t understand — a process facilitated by Bush-era federal regulators, who both failed to curb abusive lending and prevented states from taking action on their own. And for the most part, subprime lenders didn’t hold on to the loans they made. Instead, they sold off the loans to investors, in some cases surely knowing that the potential for future losses was greater than the people buying those loans (or securities backed by the loans) realized.
What we’re now seeing are accusations of a third form of fraud.
We’ve known for some time that Goldman Sachs and other firms marketed mortgage-backed securities even as they sought to make profits by betting that such securities would plunge in value. This practice, however, while arguably reprehensible, wasn’t illegal. But now the S.E.C. is charging that Goldman created and marketed securities that were deliberately designed to fail, so that an important client could make money off that failure. That’s what I would call looting.
Krugman concludes with,
The main moral you should draw from the charges against Goldman, though, doesn’t involve the fine print of reform; it involves the urgent need to change Wall Street. Listening to financial-industry lobbyists and the Republican politicians who have been huddling with them, you’d think that everything will be fine as long as the federal government promises not to do any more bailouts. But that’s totally wrong — and not just because no such promise would be credible.
For the fact is that much of the financial industry has become a racket — a game in which a handful of people are lavishly paid to mislead and exploit consumers and investors. And if we don’t lower the boom on these practices, the racket will just go on.
Perhaps if we make financial engineering less lucrative, some of the next generation of smart kids will find other ways to apply their talents. They might even be able to grow the pie, instead of merely gobbling larger shares for themselves.