Wednesday, 24 August 2011

"Class Warfare" In Unexpected Places

Every morning I hook up the coffee IV, start the pumps cycling, scrape the brine barnacles off of the hull of my floating fortress on the Great Salt Lake, and fire up the email inbox to check for job leads (I'm in what experts call "the market" for full-time employment right now).

Since my skill set and/or qualifications at the moment tend toward the clerical, I get a lot of openings in my mailbox for personal assistant jobs (I even interviewed for one position as an assistant to the COO of a fair-sized company). Long story short, I happened upon one Bruce Lefavi a short while ago. Lefavi is a wealth-management guru with two instructional books under his belt, and he seems like the typical wealth-management type, which is to say cut from the velvety cloth of purest capitalism. I'm not implying he's anything less than a full-fledged capitalist, bless his heart, but when I saw a link on his page that said "The War Against Wall Street," accompanied by a crude photoshop of Lefavi's grinning head atop Uncle Sam's familiar body, I made a few assumptions that turned out to be incorrect.

I clicked on the link expecting your standard-issue conservative/libertarian tirade against "the most anti-business administration in history" (how Obama accomplished this strange feat while pouring billions of dollars into bank bailouts is a mystery to me - as mysterious as how a Kenyan Marxist managed to collect more campaign money from Wall Street than any candidate in history). I suppose it was the title (along with Mr. Lefavi's choice of profession) that made me expect this - the "war AGAINST Wall Street" certainly makes it sound like Wall Street is taking a hot one in the grill.

Much to my surprise and delight, the title actually means that Mr. Lefavi (much like myself) believes that there SHOULD BE a war against Wall Street, rather than the pathetic and sycophantic rubdown they have received thus far. An excerpt:

Who made this mess!?!

The heads of the big brokerage firms and Hedge Funds caused this mess and almost simultaneously destroyed the U.S. and world economy. We must put these bad guys in jail and take away all their money! In my opinion, they have always been corrupt and greedy, but this time they were also stupid. These are the same firms that racked up violation after violation, went under (or almost went under) and still were bailed out by Congress

So far, my head could pop off from all the nodding in agreement I'm doing. Lefavi continues:

The Justice Department holds the publics trust in prosecuting these violations and putting a stop to these acts. We believe the SEC and the Justice Department are not up to the task! In fact, the Justice Department doesn’t even have a Securities Division.

As it stands today, a brokerage or hedge fund firm has no fear about committing a grievous violation as they so obviously have the Justice Department out-gunned. The firm who committed the violation will pit the best law firms in the world against an underpaid Justice Department bureaucrat. That is not a scenario that is going to cause a brokerage or hedge fund firm to lose any sleep.

Hang on a second there, Bruce. I agree with your appraisal so far but certainly you're exaggerating a bit. After the shenanigans that investors got up to with collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps, it would be *pure insanity* if the Justice Department "[didn't] even have a Securities Division."

Let's have a peek, shall we? There's the DEA, the Civil Rights Division - host to some memorable moments during the Bush Administration - the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties (my personal favorite)...huh. Lefavi is right - there's a shamefully underused Anti-Trust Division, and I counted at least three divisions that deal with prison or parole services, but no office devoted exclusively to the pervasive, financially damaging, widespread white-collar crime endemic to our political economy.

As a matter of fact, as Matt Taibbi recently reported, the Securities and Exchange Commission (which is its own agency) has a truly unbelievable policy regarding the shredding of evidence* - but that's a story for another day, and one that Taibbi has already pretty much covered.

Would the SEC be more aggressive and/or useful operating as a component of the Justice Department? Maybe. The fact that purebred capitalists like Bruce Lefavi are calling for real punishment for those who ruined our economy - and calling for better enforcement and prosecution of perpetrators as well - is extremely encouraging. A sort of anti-establishment consensus regarding Wall Street seems to be building among most cross-sections of the electorate, even those still loyal to President Obama.

Progressives, libertarians, conservatives - it seems that literally no group is happy with Washington's kid-glove treatment of Wall Street. What the GOP and conservatives have attempted to marginalize as "class warfare" is gaining increasing mainstream acceptance.

Yet for some reason, our elected representatives govern as though this fact doesn't matter. Curious.

*- The SEC's cuddly relationship with the entities it is supposedly in charge of monitoring is, as my friend Daniel Doyle pointed out, a "textbook case of regulatory capture." Wikipedia has a quick and dirty definition (and much more at the article on the history and theory of regulatory agencies):

In economics, regulatory capture occurs when a state regulatory agency created to act in the public interest instead advances the commercial or special interests that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating. Regulatory capture is a form of government failure, as it can act as an encouragement for large firms to produce negative externalities. The agencies are called "captured agencies".

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