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The Age of Fraud

From the Blog The Big Picture and penned by the always erudite William K. Black excerpts below.

What do you get when you throw together economic fraudsters, plutocrats and opportunistic criminals? A financial crisis, that’s what. If you look back over the massive frauds that have swept the country in recent decades, from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s to the 2007-’08 financial crash, this deadly combination always appears.

At the heart of Greenspan’s failure lies an ethical void in the brand of economics that has dominated American universities and policy circles for the last several decades, a brand known as “free market fundamentalism” or the “neoclassical school.” (I call it “theoclassical economics” for its quasi-religious belief system.) Mainstream economists who follow this school assert a deeply flawed and controversial concept known as the “efficient market hypothesis,” which holds that financial markets magically regulate themselves (they automatically “self-correct”) and are thus immune to fraud.

Alan Greenspan was Ayn Rand’s protégé, but he moved radically to the wacky side of Rand on the issue of financial fraud. And that, friends, is pretty wacky. Greenspan pushed the idea that preventing fraud was not a legitimate basis for regulation, and said so in a famous encounter [3] with Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chair Brooksley Born. “I don’t think there is any need for a law against fraud,” Born recalls Greenspan telling her. Greenspan actually believed the market would sort itself out if any fraud occurred. Born knew she had a powerful foe on any regulation.

Lynn Turner, former chief accountant of the SEC, told me of Greenspan’s infamous question to his group of senior officials who met at the Fed in late 1998 or early 1999 (roughly the same time as Greenspan’s conversation with Born): “Why does it matter if the banks are allowed to fudge their numbers a little bit?” What’s wrong with a “little bit” of fraud?

A “little bit of fraud?”. No wonder modern finance is such a mess. the whole article can be found here and is well worth a read.


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