"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress
discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."
- Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America
Wall Street's biggest financial institutions deliberately lie and distort for one reason. Because it pays.
Today Bloomberg is reporting that Citibank left billions of dollars in toxic assets off of it's books, which helped mislead investors and regulators. Doing so allowed Citigroup - which received about $45 billion in taxpayer bailout funds - to continue selling their wares as if they were solid assets. They were not. They now have to pay a $75 million fine for misleading investors.
Count me a unimpressed by the punishment. To understand why let's play "What would you do?"
Let's say you need to
Think hard about this one ...
I know, it's a tough one ... Do the right (and legal) thing, and tell everyone what you have is crap. Or "mistate" assets and let people buy the crap you have. Hmmm. What to do, what to do?
Well, on Wall Street, where ethics and morality get lost in some kind of giant Black Hole of corporate stupidity and greed, the answer is to deceive and mislead. Big time.
Check this out.
Earlier this month Goldman Sachs agreed to pay $550 million to settle charges that it sold "made-to-fail" assets in 2007. They did so without disclosing that they knew the company (Paulson & Co.) that helped create the asset did so with the idea that it would fail. In fact, they bet on it. They actually went out and purchased insurance on the made-to-fail assets, which netted them huge profits. Nice.
Then, in February, Bank of America said it would pay $150 million for failing to tell shareholders about anticipated losses, and the $5.8 billion in bonuses that was set aside, which were part of the Merrill Lynch purchase. Shall we score another one for doing the right thing, and corporate transparency?
(Note: While BofA paid $33 billion for Merrill Lynch - which was loaded up with toxic assets - Bank of America was given more than $100 billion in taxpayer bailout aid and other guarantees to help it stave off more than $118 billion in losses, and possible bankruptcy. This is the essence of corporate welfare.)
Anyways, back to my original question: What would you do if you could secure money that's virtually "penalty free" by deliberately lying? I know. It's a tough one. Think hard, again ...
The moral of this story is that it's business as usual in America. And that's a bad thing.
Not much to say here except that we're screwed, again.