It's Good to Be King

It's Good to Be King
There is an old saying - "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

Well, the American public is being fooled again. Shame on them.

According to the fuzzy-headed economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research (which sounds like a throwback to the old Soviet Union), the longest US recession since the Great Depression officially ended in June 2009.

Tell that to the unemployed. According to the latest figures, there are more people without jobs today than there were when the recession "ended".

My only regret is that the economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research aren't among those without jobs.

Ever since the recession "ended", more Americans have gone to the poorhouse than have come out of it. Not only do they lack jobs, but the value of their assets keeps falling too.

If one looks at the value of Americans' homes and stock market portfolios over the past few years, it is down 25.7 percent from June 2007 to the recent low.

The figure has dropped from $65.8 trillion to $48.8 trillion, a plunge of nearly $17 trillion! No wonder most people don't feel that the recession is over for them.

But don't worry, America. Wall Street is as healthy as ever and the bankers are gleeful. And they have every right to be.

Tough international banking regulations, the so-called Basel III, have been completely watered down. The "new" regulations still would not raise a red flag if Lehman Brothers were going bust today.

And no other meaningful changes in how Wall Street operates are coming. Here are a few examples.

Wall Street can continue freely producing toxic assets like the mortgage securities which nearly crashed the global economy.

In the rest of the world, they have a product called "covered bonds" which are much safer. They are called "covered" because the lenders who pool, package and sell these securities are forced to actually keep 'skin-in-the-game'. The banks are required to retain the underlying loans on their balance sheets, not dump them on some unsuspecting third party.

But Wall Street strongly opposes covered bonds and they will not be issued here. After all, why should the banks be responsible for the loans when they can leave US taxpayers holding the bag?

And look at the difference between how the United States bailed out its banks and Sweden did it in the 1990s.

Sweden did not just bail out its banks by having the government take over the bad debts. It extracted concessions from the banks before writing checks.

Banks had to write down losses and issue warrants to the government. That held banks responsible. Holders in bank stocks and bonds paid the price as well they should have. Meanwhile here in the US, owners of bank bonds paid no penalty and were paid in full.

No wonder the final cost of the Swedish bailout of its financial system came to only 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Here in the US, we have already spent 15%-20% of our GDP on the bailout and the costs are still rising.

There is another difference between Europe and the US too. In Europe, the heads of many of its major banks are being forced out by unhappy shareholders.

But here in the US, shareholders have very little say in how a company conducts its business. So nearly all the CEOs who were in place and helped cause the financial crisis are still in place and continue to collect tens of millions of dollars in compensation.

Yes, it's good to be the king, or a Wall Street banker. No worries about unemployment in the executive offices of Wall Street.

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