American Capitalism: Profit, But Fairly

Adam Davidson wrote up an interesting apologia for Wall Street in the NY Times last week, which I think is ultimately a call for better regulation, rather than bank-hating. I missed the piece originally, but Yves Smith found it and has nothing good to say about it. I think Yves is a little too harsh on Davidson. I’ve got issues with parts of the piece, but on different grounds, namely that it efuses to engage on the real issue. The problem isn’t financial intermediation. That’s a perfectly fine thing that plays a useful role in society.

Instead, the problem is when financial intermediaries do not treat the intermediating parties (meaning consumer and investors) fairly. The history of US financial services is nothing short of a history of scandals involving financial institutions variously ripping off investors and consumers. I’m not just talking about those scandals we remember, like Milken or Madoff or the recent slew or even the second tier ones like the Salad Oil scam or all of 1920s mortgage bonds. The history of US financial services is largely a history of unregulated innovation resulting in abuse and then follow-up regulatory reform. Lather, rinse, wash, repeat.

Davidson argues that the reason to “hate the banks” is that

Wall Street firms enforce the cold rules of capitalism: hostile takeovers, foreclosures, fee increases, defaults. But those rules clearly do not apply to the largest banks themselves.

Check out the rest here…