We can’t help but share the “shocking” news we came across in the Sunday Times that former US Treasury Secretary (and former Goldman Sachs CEO) Hank Paulson does not believe that banning proprietary trading at large banks (i.e. Goldman Sachs) insured by tax payer dollars is a good idea. Since most of those in Washington with the power to formulate financial reform have spent most of their careers on Wall Street, and maintain close ties with their former pals, this “shocking” news should not come as a surprise. But it still makes us sick to our stomach.
But perhaps even more appalling is the fact that Hank Paulson led the Wall Street Charge to reduce capital requirements on investment banks in 2004, while he was CEO of Goldman Sachs. This exemption led to a predictable explosion of debt and leverage ratios, resulting in the greatest credit bubble in modern history. The NYT provided an excellent recap of the events at the time in a must read article published in October 2008.
Unfortunately, our current Treasury Secretary has not exactly been an obvious improvement thus far. Timmy Geithner insists that his actions to date – actions best described as printing trillions of dollars to “save” our financial system – have cost far less than the alternative. We’ll acknowledge that the joint blunders of Bernanke and Geithner have managed to avoid Financial Armageddon. But our praise stops there. We’ve done nothing to correct the previous structural imbalances. Consumer deleveraging has just begun. Unemployment will remain high and sticky for years. Small business continues to struggle. And the only thing we can see that is experiencing a v-shaped recovery is bank profits and the bonuses of Paulson’s old cronies. What’s wrong with this picture?
Disclosure: At the time of publication, the author was short Goldman Sachs, although positions may change at any time.