Photo: taigasylvan on Flickr
In the midst of the Euro debt crisis, the looming fiscal cliff, and all the political spin both political parties are putting on every economic issue in this election, it’s hard to think that any bone is being left unpicked.But according to former lobbyist and Senate staffer Jeff Connaughton, there are looming risks that aren’t making it into the conversation, and they are vital to the health of our economy.
“We have two problems,” Connaughton told Business Insider. “We have no effective reform on Wall Street, and no politicians that are willing to fix it.”
This is nothing we haven’t heard before, but according to Connaughton we just haven’t heard it enough. He just wrote a book called ‘The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins’ about the time he spent in Washington when, even though politicians might not be willing to do anything meaningful about Wall Street reform, they were at least willing to talk about it.
That was in 2009.
At that time he was working for Ted Kaufman, a Delaware politician who filled Joe Biden’s Senate seat when Biden became Vice President.
Kaufman promised not to run for another term after he finished out Biden’s, but instead of acting as a seat warmer, he dug into the work of ensuring that another financial crisis would not bring down the American economy.
As Connaughton tells it, for the most part Kaufman’s attempt to regulate high frequency trading, end conflicts of interest on Wall Street and write simple, clear regulations fell on deaf (Democratic and Republican) ears.
“It was the biggest issue when Ted Kaufman was Senator and I was shocked that the system was unable to take it on in any meaningful way,” said Connaughton.
And there’s a specific reason why nothing could be done about Wall Street. It was because of the ‘The Blob’ (from The Payoff):
The Blob (it’s really called that) refers to the government entities that regulate the finance industry—like the Banking Committee, Treasury Department, and SEC—and the army of Wall Street representatives and lobbyists that continuously surrounds and permeates them. The Blob moves together. Its members are in constant contact by email and phone. They dine, drink, and take vacations together. Not surprisingly, they frequently intermarry.
Ted and I quickly learned that, when you take on Wall Street in Washington, you take on The Blob.
See, what The Blob was really concerned about, according to Connaughton, was not ensuring that another crisis would not hit again. It was keeping American banks competitive. This is where they fight “strongest, hardest, and best,” he said. So doing things that would prevent another catastrophe that have even a small chance of putting American banks at a disadvantage with those overseas (like setting clear leverage limits of say, 6x) was out of the question.
Instead, says Connaughton, the Blob wrote purposely vague regulations, leaving them to future regulators to work out; the Justice Department was left underfunded and without the ability to police Wall Street; and Too Big To Fail banks remain.
So what will fix this problem (aside from clear, simple legislation)? Connaughton isn’t shy about the answer to that question — Some people need to go to jail.
“There’s no deterrent for committing fraud,” he said frankly, “and in our stock market there is no ability to detect fraud in high frequency trading.”
Big business needs to act too. Companies like Wal-Mart have taken on Wall Street and credit card providers before, and Connaughton thinks that the if the business community tires of the volatility Wall Street’s actions bring to the financial system continue, it may say “enough!” and take on the banks.
The question is how much we can all take.
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