You would think that causing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression might have repercussions. You would think being a major factor in the destruction of around 40 percent of the world’s wealth might get you in trouble. You would think being the cause of the worst housing crisis in history — with millions of people losing their homes because of you — might force a restructuring of how Wall Street does things.
You would think that. But you’d be wrong.
For Wall Street’s lobbyists in Washington, it’s business as usual. Since Barack Obama took office, the bankers have succeeded in pushing through bogus “stress tests” of financial institutions’ solvency, escaping tougher government oversight, and steamrolling attempts to give working-class borrowers a break.
Even the much-hyped limits on CEO pay are being rolled back. In mid-June, Barack Obama lifted a five-month-old limit on executive compensation at financial firms that took federal bailout money. Apparently, only $500,000 a year in salaries and other perks was just too much of a sacrifice for the financial system to bear. Instead, Obama has established a “special master of compensation,” who will decide on pay to top executives at banks still reliant on government money.
While having a “special master” oversee pay might sound like a big deal, the banks aren’t sweating it. “Our people kind of thought it was a non-event,” one unnamed executive of a large bank told the Washington Post. “I don’t think there are worries about it on Wall Street.” And, the executive added, “It’s not like the horrible and unethical action from Congress, where they were putting artificial caps on pay or trying to steal back bonuses.”
The sense of entitlement on display in comments like these is staggering — as if the “wizards” of Wall Street deserve the billions in compensation showered upon them in the past decade for producing what has proved to be fictitious wealth, while destabilizing the economy and destroying the lives of people across the U.S.
As for legislation aimed at stemming the kinds of predatory lending practices that helped exacerbate the housing bubble and ultimately triggered the financial crisis, Senate Banking Committee Chair Christopher Dodd recently said, “We’ve got a lot on our plate. We’ve got other things to do.”
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