In an October NY Times op-ed, Calvin Trillin describes a (hypothetical) conversation in a midtown bar about the financial crisis. “The financial system nearly collapsed because smart guys had started working on Wall Street.” By contrast, decades ago, a top student became a federal judge or a professor. Meanwhile, the bottom third went to Wall Street. More recently though, “Smart guys started going to Wall Street.” and invented derivatives and credit default swaps. “But who was running the firms they worked for? Our guys! The lower third of the class. Guys who didn’t have the foggiest notion of what a credit default swap was…!”
I only remembered Trillin’s column because of yesterday’s Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) testimony from Chuck Prince, former head of Citigroup and Bob Rubin, Citigroup “senior counselor” and former Secretary of the Treasury.
Please do read Trillin’s column and then listen to yesterday’s testimony. Your opinion? Also, check this baseline scenario comment on Alan Greenspan’s testimony.
The Economic Lesson
The FCIC is being compared to the Pecora Commission. Between 1932 and 1934, the Pecora Commission investigated “stock exchange practices and their effect on American commerce, the national banking system, and the government securities market. They also addressed issues of tax evasion and avoidance.” Their impact is reflected by the content of the Banking Act of 1933 (Glass-Steagall), the Securities Act of 1933, and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. A St. Louis Fed paper has the documents.