Humanity Amid The Wall Street Sociopaths
January 13, 2010 - 4:37pm ET
The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission hearings began belatedly this morning. Carrying a structure of decision-making that appears to be designed to make it hard to get things done, Chairman Phil Angelides has a gargantuan task before him.
The first session, which is a beginning, did have moments of import and Angelides acquitted himself well when he reminded Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein of the fact that there were people on the other side of those losses, particularly police pension funds, when Goldman appears to have sold the "sophisticated investors" representing them some toxic mortgage paper.
What I find important about that moment is that Angelides' questions serve to restore some humanity to this process that hides behind complexity and mathematics and screens while denying human consequences. The sociopath nature of Wall Street, seeing its actions as disembodied from the rest of the economy and society, has to be shattered. These financial professionals have failed as experts and custodians of the well-being and future of the nation.
Another noteworthy element of the theater was the relative absence of Jamie Dimon. He was hardly questioned or pressed. Blankfein has been cast as the feisty defender of Wall Street practice.
The example of Goldman Sachs' conflict of interest between the proprietary account of the firm and the well-being of its customers is certainly not unique to that firm. It would serve us all if the FCIC were to dig deeper into how that conflict operates.
The other highlight was Blankfien's declaration that he was never asked to take less than 100 cents on the dollar on AIG settlements when the giant insurance firm lumbered up to the bailout table.
Most assuredly, future hearings will delve into the interface between private firms and the government authorities at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. One only hopes that the FCIC can get to the bottom of this relationship before we pass financial reform legislation in the Congress in the coming year.
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