More To Good To Be True

Why Does Refusing to Put Fraudulent Banks into Receivership Help the Economy?

by William Black, New Economic Perspectives

Posted on April 30, 2014

Conservative economists love “creative destruction.” They can’t wait to “get their Schumpeter on” when a business fails and thousands of workers lose their jobs. There is no more “creative destruction” conceivable than when we put a bank that has become a fraudulent enterprise into receivership, remove the controlling officers leading the fraud, and sell the bank through an FDIC-assisted acquisition. Indeed, the pinnacle of creative destruction would be doing this with a systemically dangerous institution (SDI) through a process that split the supposedly “too big to fail” bank into smaller components that (1) were no longer large enough to pose a systemic risk, (2) were more efficient than the bloated SDI, (3) no longer extorted a large (implicit) government subsidy that made real competition impossible, and (4) no longer had dominant political power via crony capitalism. Unlike the situation in which an SDI collapses suddenly in the midst of causing a global crisis when its frauds cause a liquidity crisis, it is vastly easier to put fraudulent SDIs in receivership in today’s circumstances. Unlike Arthur Anderson, the receivership power allows us to keep the enterprise alive and create more competitors rather than fewer.

As I often remarked, it is a testament to the financial and moral sophistication of our successors as financial regulators relative to our primitive era that they have realized that keeping fraudulent CEOs in charge of our largest banks – and virtually never putting such banks into receivership however massive and damaging their serial felonies – is the key to achieving financial stability. Their system, it must be admitted, has proven far superior. GDP losses are merely far more than 100X greater in the current crisis than in the savings and loan debacle. The jihad against effective regulation and prosecution of elite control frauds has been an enormous success. The primary question is whether to classify the resultant epidemics of accounting control fraud as “unintended consequences” of the three “de’s” (deregulation, desupervision, and de facto decriminalization) or as a very “intended consequences.”

Lanny Breuer’s infamous “lamentations” speech (while head of DOJ’s Criminal Division) underscored how he fell hook, line, and sinker for the absurd claims of economists hired by today’s most elite fraudulent banksters that banks (and bankers!) should be “too big to prosecute.” By Breuer’s own bumbling admission, he lay awake at night for fear that his (always hypothetical) prosecutions of the major banks might “cause” a fraudulent bank to “fail.” This is, of course, heresy under the Schumpeterian creed of “creative destruction,” but theoclassical economists are very forgiving of their co-religionists who get rich by spreading heresy in the service of fraudulent elites.

Breuer was so bad that he obscured what we primitive regulators and white-collar criminologists had emphasized for decades. First, no banker is “too big to jail.” They are easily replaceable and removing a fraudulent bank CEO from power is the single most productive act that regulators and prosecutors can accomplish. Breuer and Attorney General Eric Holder were involved in a con when they claimed that their failure to prosecute the senior bank officers leading the frauds was in any way related to “too big to fail.” Hilariously, they even applied the “rationale” for non-prosecution to former bank officers – as if a bank would fail “because” its former officers were prosecuted. It is a testament to the weakness of the reportage that this claim was not treated with ridicule.

The Bush and Obama administration have already allowed the statute of limitations to run on vast numbers of frauds led by the CEOs of mortgage bankers and the 10 year statute of limitations applicable to federally insured banks (which we obtained in response to the S&L debacle) is rapidly running. The recent DOJ IG report documented the hollow nature of the FBI investigations related to the crisis. Even when the statute of limitations has not run it becomes very difficult to try “old” cases because of the loss of documents and memory and the feeling of judges and juries that the matter cannot have been terribly grave if the FBI ignored it for eight years. Even if Holder had a “Road to Damascus” conversion today and tried to prosecute the elite bank frauds that drove the crisis he would be far too late. The DOJ will commit its greatest strategic failure to uphold the rule of law. That does not mean that it could not bring a dozen prosecutions against the most destructive and fraudulent bank CEOs during the waning years of the Obama administration, but there is no evidence that the FBI is even investigating those frauds.

Instead, Holder has given up on prosecuting the CEOs that led the frauds that caused our crisis. The new DOJ press leak indicates that DOJ may charge two foreign banks with committing frauds unrelated to the financial crisis. This is hardly a major accomplishment, but it is all that Holder can bring himself to do so it was ballyhooed in “Deal Book” under this sad title “2 Giant Banks, Seen as Immune, Become Targets.

Deal Book has written another article praising a moral and policy travesty. Read beyond the article’s propaganda and you will find that it actually contains admissions by senior DOJ officials confirming that our description of the disgraceful policies that we charged that DOJ and the anti-regulators were following was correct and confirming that our conclusion that such policies were deeply criminogenic had proved correct. Bharara admitted that the GBH Doctrine created a “gaping liability loophole that blameworthy [controlling bank officers] are only too willing to exploit.” Until we appoint regulators with the spines, integrity, brains, and courage to realize that our paramount function is to place banks led by frauds into receivership and end the CEO’s ability to lead a control fraud we will fail to have a sound banking system and we will fail to restore the rule of law.


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