On Monday, we arose to discover that Bear Stearns, the fifth largest investment banking firm in the U.S., had succumbed to the current sub-prime mortgage debacle. Actually, this failure has little to do with sub-prime mortgages and has everything to do with the excesses of the capital markets' hubris. In America, Corporatism equates to Capitalism gone terribly wrong. Specifically, the geniuses on Wall Street have created such exotic financial instruments that they don't even understand what they own, much less the associated risk.
So why should we be concerned? Simply, it's going to become a little bit more difficult to sell your personal home, afford to pay for college education, to obtain a small business loan, or to possibly even float municipal bonds to afford the West End Project should the tax payers of our city want to consider such a venture. Citizens' retirement plans may be disrupted not to mention that their individual stock and bond portfolios will suffer while the regulators attempt to divine the best course of action to avert yet another financial melt-down.
In the past, it has been explained that corporations may make egregious errors, but that individuals within those corporations are immune from taking responsibility for their actions. From the bailout of the Savings and Loans demise, to Long Term Capital, to the 'tech wreck,' to the now sub-prime mortgage crises, our regulators continue to get it wrong. Some believe they are 'asleep at the switch.' Others believe that it is but benign neglect. We trust (?) there is no collusion because there exists one large revolving door between the nation's financial and banking services industry and the nation's financial regulators. A casual observation reflects that executives of financial institutions in the United States become Treasury Secretaries, head of the Securities Exchange Commissions and all manner of middle and lower regulatory positions.
So the next time one of your children is required to make a greater down payment for that first house, a neighbor's pension plan is taken over by the PBGC at a fraction of what it was formerly worth or your elderly parents see their retirement portfolios diminish beyond probability, we should reflect back and ask ourselves are the individuals responsible for these financial debacles any different than the executives at Enron, Worldcom or any host of publicly traded corporations in which citizens have placed their trust and future financial well being?
Noel R. Wolfe is a resident of Lake Oswego.