Monday, December 15, 2014

A Bad Trade

The economy once ago sank
From abuses at many a bank,
Which Congress attacked
In a really big act
That went by the name of Dodd-Frank.

As Wall Street perceived a montrosity
Of Congressional excess verbosity
That was bound to constrain
Their potential for gain,
They resisted with extra ferocity.

An especially prominent section
That met with the bankers' objection
Expressly forbade
The derivatives trade
From counting on federal protection.

It's a problem the banks have endured
Since young J.P. Morgan matured:
How to keep the return
The good bets may earn,
While the bad are by others insured.

To safeguard their profits from harm
They launched an offensive of charm;
Contributions were made,
And lobbyists paid
To dazzle, dissuade and disarm.

But none of those flacks could compare
To the JPMorgan Chase chair;
His pockets well-lined,
His manner refined
And silver his tongue and his hair.

Mr. Dimon instinctively knows
How to lobby his friends and his foes
To attach what he will
To an omnibus bill
That few can afford to oppose.

A bill to keep government funded
Not many would like to see undid,
So you plant your revision
Where few can envision,
While quietly hoping that none did.

But for some, there was just no ignorin':
Moral hazard, once out, was once more in,
A setback so bitter
That Sen. Vitter
Admitted he felt just like Warrin'.

So once again Congress was played
To help the derivative trade;
The hazard is moral,
But no one would quarrel
That that's how the sausage is made.

***********


Wall Street has been trying to roll back provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act ever since it was passed in 2010. Now it has partially succeeded with the help of the sausage-making process in our dysfunctional Congress.

Buried in the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by the House is a
repeal of the “push-out” regulation — a measure to ensure that banks trade their riskiest financial instruments without the protection of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or backing of the Federal Reserve.   Such a repeal brings back some of the financial moral hazard that was removed - or at least reduced - by Dodd-Frank.  In other words, if financial enterprises make risky trades within the insured banking institutions that are part of their corporate groups, they get to keep all of the gains, but taxpayers could be on the hook for losses that exceed the banks' capacity to absorb.

As Senator Elizabeth Warren put it, though neither Democrats nor Republicans like bailouts, "here we are five years after Dodd-Frank with Congress on the verge of ramming through a provision that would do nothing... but raise the risk that taxpayers will have to bail out the biggest banks once again."  Sen. Warren pointed to the revolving door between Citigroup and the Obama Administration as one culprit.  The Guardian's finance and economics editor Heidi Moore asks a more personal question: "Why does Jamie Dimon always get his way?"  The well-connected JPMorgan Chase CEO made direct calls to key lawmakers to assure their support.  Mr. Dimon, whose way with Congress has previously been noted on this site, has the unique talent of persuading legislators that, as Ms. Moore puts it, "bank profits are something every American should fervently hope for."  

Perhaps that is because members of Congress have developed the talent of persuading Americans that more political contributions are something that every American should fervently hope for.

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