Friday, July 13, 2012

A Victimless Crime?

Said an interbank trader, at pains
To manipulate LIBOR for gains:
"Though perhaps this offense
Is at someone's expense,
It's alright unless someone complains."

After the scandal and outcry over the fraudulent LIBOR fixing at Barclays and other banks, and the large fines and executive dismissals imposed upon Barclays by British regulators, came the inevitable, what's-the-big-deal backlash from those arguing that this is old news, that everybody does it, and that it's a victimless crime. MIT economist Simon Johnson answers the naysayers in a New York Times column. First, the fact that the rate-rigging has long been an industry practice is more - not less - troubling, as it goes to the heart of the cultural encroachment of fraud and corruption in the financial industry. Likewise, if everybody is in fact doing it, how much more Herculean is the task of cleaning the financial Augean stables. Finally, the notion that the LIBOR fraud is a victimless crime is false on its face. If two parties enter into a transaction and one of them is secretly rigging the price to his benefit, then the other party loses. Though the complexity of the global financial system may make it conveniently difficult to identify the victims, they nevertheless do exist.

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