Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Dear Uncle Sam

Barry Ritholtz pens a letter to the government in the voice of one Warren Buffet, if the latter had been dosed with sodium pentathol. Excoriating and enlightening, as always. My favorite highlight:

Before I get to the bailouts, I have to remind you that in:

  • 1999, you passed the Financial Services Modernization Act. This repealed Glass-Steagall, the law that had successfully kept main street banking safely separated from Wall Street for seven decades. Even the 1987 market crash had no impact on Main Street credit availability, thanks to Glass-Steagall.

  • 1997-2010, you allowed the Credit Rating Agencies to change their business model, from Investor pays to Underwriter pays — a business structure known as Payola. This change effectively allowed banks to purchase their AAA ratings, and was ignored by the SEC and other regulators.

  • 2000, you passed the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. It allowed the shadow banking industry to develop without any oversight by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the SEC, or the state insurance regulators. This led to rampant creation of credit-default swaps, CDOs, and other financial weapons of mass destruction — and the demise of AIG.

  • 2001-04, the Fed, under Alan Greenspan, irresponsibly dropped fund rates to 1%. This set off an inflationary spiral in housing, commodities, and in most assets priced in dollars or credit.

  • 1999-07, the Federal Reserve failed to use its supervisory and regulatory authority over banks, mortgage underwriters and other lenders, who abandoned such standards as employment history, income, down payments, credit rating, assets, property loan-to-value ratio and debt-servicing ability.

  • 2004, the SEC waived its leverage rules, allowing the 5 biggest Wall Street firms to go from 12 to 1 to 20, 30 and even 40 to 1. Ironically, this rule was called the Bear Stearns exemption.

(In case you’ve never heard of him, Ritholtz was the one that called that whole “Goldman’s gonna settle” thing months ahead of time.)