Friday, October 15, 2010

Wall Street's Pathologies

While I'm KrugPostin', here's a KrugLink to a piece in the NY Observer about, well, just what kind of asshats are working on Wall Street these days.

"The first thing that needs to happen, I think, is to get these people out of their homes," a man wearing a bespoke blue-striped shirt, a Herm├ęs tie patterned with elephants and Ferragamo loafers said recently. "Correct! I'll explain," the veteran member of a bank restructuring and advisory team said.

Amid evidence of sham documents and widespread paperwork gaffes, if not systemic fraud that increasingly looks like it may be terrifically deep, Bank of America recently halted all foreclosure proceedings around the country. That followed similar announcements from the home-loan giants JPMorgan Chase and GMAC.

But Wall Street does not sympathize. "You had people putting zero down to get massive houses they couldn't afford to be in," he said Monday morning, "but now they want to stay. And the government wants to let them stay, because they're voters." A few hours later, the Goldman Sachs arm Litton Loan Servicing said it had suspended certain foreclosure proceedings, too. "Talk about a financial scandal," a Wall Street Journal editorial this weekend joked. "A consumer borrows money to buy a house, doesn't make the mortgage payments and then loses the house in foreclosure—only to learn that the wrong guy at the bank signed the foreclosure paperwork. Can you imagine?"

"The problem is they don't deserve to be in that place. They probably deserve to be there less than they used to," the source continued, referring to incomes lower now than they'd been when the loans were made in the first place. "You do need to foreclose, and you need to go back to people living in houses that are consistent with their income levels."
At this point, I'd like to remind readers that there are reports all over the place about people getting foreclosed upon that paid in full and paid in cash. Including in the Observer. Moving on...

In order to understand Wall Street's shrug during this foreclosure crisis, which as many as 40 attorneys general are expected to announce an investigation into this week, the key is to appreciate just how deeply connected the gesture is to Wall Street's view of who's to blame for the financial crisis.

The feeling, the idea at the bottom of all the others, is that even if Wall Street aggravated the crisis by bundling and betting on mortgage-backed securities that turned out not to live up to high ratings, it was not a matter of, as Citi chairman Richard D. Parsons told The Observer this summer, "bad people trying to do bad things." The loans wouldn't have been there in the first place if American home buyers, driven by what The Weekly Standard calls immediate gratification without personal responsibility, hadn't overstepped their bounds.

So when Ken Bentsen, the executive vice president for public policy and advocacy at Wall Street's largest trade group, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, talks about this foreclosure fraud crisis, he points out that the homeowners arguing about administrative problems are the ones who've gotten themselves tied up in the foreclosure route in the first place, regrettably. "No one has raised the question that anyone who's going through this process shouldn't have been in the foreclosure process," said Mr. Bentsen, who, as a congressman from Texas, helped write the Sarbanes-Oxley and Gramm-Leach-Bliley acts.

"Look, I think it's just human nature. People want to have a bogeyman," Ralph Cioffi, the former Bear Stearns hedge fund manager, who was found not guilty of fraud, said in a recent Observer profile about anger at banks and bankers. "People don't want to take responsibility for their own actions."
Apparently not.

So, the Wall Street titans, having screwed up so badly that they needed to be rescued from their own financial crapulence by the American people, are right back to blaming absolutely everything on poor people. Let the borrowers suffer. I have a tee time to get to!

Never mind that the wealthy are more likely to play the "jingle-mail" card than the poor are. Never mind that the professionals involved all signed off on this nonsense. And never mind that everybody said that the crash couldn't happen, that home prices couldn't go down, and that anybody who said otherwise was a crank. And never mind that the institutions that these guys work for were more precariously leveraged than a thousand insolvent homeowners. No, it all comes back to the OTHER guy.

And why?

"Because people don't want to take responsibility for their own actions".

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