The US Has No Banking Regulation, And It Doesn’t Want Any

Courtesy of The Automatic Earth.


Marjory Collins Traffic jam on road from the Bethlehem Fairfield shipyard to Baltimore April 1943

It is, let’s say, exceedingly peculiar to begin with that a government – in this case the American one, but that’s just one example -, in name of its people tasks a private institution with regulating not just any sector of its economy, but the richest and most politically powerful sector in the nation. Which also happens to be at least one of the major forces behind its latest, and ongoing, economical crisis.

That there is a very transparent, plain for everyone to see, over-sized revolving door between the regulator and the corporations in the sector only makes the government’s choice for the Fed as regulator even more peculiar. Or, as it turns out, more logical. But it is still preposterous: regulating the financial sector is a mere illusion kept alive through lip service. Put differently: the American government doesn’t regulate the banks. They effectively regulate themselves. Which inevitably means there is no regulation.

The newly found attention for ProPublica writer Jake Bernstein’s series of articles, which date back almost one whole year, about the experiences of former Fed regulator Carmen Segarra, and the audio files she collected while trying to do her job, leaves no question about this.

What’s going on is abundantly clear, because it is so simple. The intention of the New York Fed as an organization is not to properly regulate, but only to generate an appearance – or illusion – of proper regulation. That is to say, Goldman will accept regulation only up to the point where it would cut into either the company’s profits or its political wherewithal.

What the ‘Segarra Files’ point out is that the New York Fed plays the game exactly the way Goldman wants it played. Ergo: there is no actual regulation taking place, and Goldman will comply only with those requests from the New York Fed that it feels like complying with.

In the articles, the term ‘regulatory capture’ pops up, which means – individual – regulators are ‘co-opted’ by the banks they – are supposed to – regulate. But the capture runs much larger and wider. It’s not about individuals, it’s a watertight and foolproof system wide capture.

The government picks a – private – regulator which has close ties to the banks. The government knows this. It also knows this means that its chosen regulator will always defer to the banks. And when individual regulators refuse to comply with the system, they are thrown out.

In one of the cases Segarra was involved in during her stint at the Fed, the Kinder Morgan-El Paso takeover deal, Goldman advises one party, has substantial stock holdings in the other, and appoints a lead counsel who personally has $340,000 in stock involved. Conflict of interest? Goldman says no, and the Fed complies (defers).

The lawsuit Segarra filed against the NY Fed and three of its executives was thrown out on technicalities by a judge whose husband was legal counsel for Goldman in the exact same case. No conflict of interest, the judge herself decides.

This is not regulation, it’s a sick and perverted joke played on the American people, which it has been paying for it through the nose for years, and will for many years to come. Sure, Elizabeth Warren picks it up now and wants hearings on the topic in Congress, but she’s a year late (it’s been known since at least December 2013 that Segarra has audio recordings) and moreover, it was Congress itself that made the NY Fed the regulator of Wall Street. Warren has as much chance of getting anywhere as Segarra did (or does, she’s appealing the case).

The story: In October 2011, Carmen Segarra was hired by New York Fed to be embedded at Goldman as a risk specialist, and in particular to investigate to what degree the company complied with a 2008 Fed Supervision and Regulation Letter, known as SR 08-08, which focuses on the requirement for firms like Goldman, engaged in many different activities, to have company-wide programs to manage business risks, in particular conflict-of-interest. Some people at Goldman admitted it did not have such a company-wide policy as of November 2011. Others, though, said it did.

Let’s take it from there with quotes from the 5 articles Bernstein wrote on the topic over the past year. To listen to the Segarra files, please go to The Secret Recordings of Carmen Segarra at This American Life.

One last thing: Jake Bernstein’s work is of high quality, but I can’t really figure why he syas things such as teh audio files show: “a New York Fed that is at times reluctant to push hard against Goldman and struggling to define its authority”. Through his work, and the files, it should be clear that just ain’t so. Both the Fed’s policy and authority are crystal clear and ironclad.

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