Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission

The 500 odd page report that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission released last week pointed to “widespread failures in financial regulation, dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance, excessive borrowing and risk-taking by households and Wall Street, policy makers who were ill prepared for the crisis and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics in all levels”. It concluded that the crisis was “avoidable”,

Mainstream media gave the report a cold shoulder. The Financial Times wrote that like The Murder on the Orient Express, the report was saying that “everyone did it”.

But what would have been the alternative? To look for a culprit or a “smoking gun”? That, too, the Commission did – and with a vengeance. “They didn’t find a smoking gun but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The chairman devoted too much of the staff’s time and energy looking for that smoking gun,” a Republican member of the Commission told the FT.

A calamity that paralyzed the financial institutions in two continents and affected many other countries in the periphery could not be due to a single cause or a smoking gun. This was evident in the dissenting report of a right wing commissioner who blamed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and, by extension, the government, for the crisis. Read his report and conclusion (p. 533) and compare it with my three-part posts on the destruction of Fannie and Freddie to see how a doctrinaire systematically falsifies the past events.

What the commissioners as a group failed to understand is that a crisis that shaped the conduct of many diverse parties, from rating agencies to Wall Street bankers and from regulators to fund managers, had to have an underlying cause that transcended the individual players. How else to explain those groups going “bad” at the same time.

The “cause”, we know, is speculative capital whose modus operandi in terms of bringing about the crisis I detailed in the 10-part post starting here.

But to see that, the Commissioners had to go beyond the live actors testifying before them to a philosophical abstraction that they could not see or touch. They had neither the ideological bent nor the intellectual horsepower for going that far. Thus, the conclusion was preordained. It was all they could do.

Otherwise, in terms of depth and breadth of the evidence and the chronology of events leading to the crisis, the report is second to none. I plan to use it extensively in my future writings.