Friday, July 10, 2009

Banking Alchemists At It Again

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. ~ Rita Mae Brown
From time immemorial the goal of alchemists has been to turn base metal, like lead, into gold. We, in these times of science and reason, have assumed alchemy is now only the stuff of fairy tales. We would be wrong.

Bankers drove the world's economy to its knees by practicing a form of alchemy where worthless debt was repackaged (securitized) and sold as gilt-edged investments. While there were certainly flimflam men involved, most of these bankers truly believed they had magically turned garbage into gold and were honestly shocked when the alchemy turned out to be a fool's dream.

Well, the bankers are at it again. They are taking financial rubbish (Baa2-rated securities), packaging them into CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) and through the magic that is the banker's mysterious arts those CDOs become AAA-rated debt. Anyone with his feet on the ground would realize immediately that this is utter foolishness. No one can take lots of financial lead and, by the simple act of bundling it, turn that lead into gold. But modern bankers are not bounded by the laws of nature or logic.

Which brings me to the concept of Bankslaughter. Bank executives should be held legally liable if their attempts at financial alchemy blows up in our faces. There was a time when to be a banker was to be the epitome of prudence. If people aren't naturally prudent they ought to enter another line of work, such as shark wrestling.

As for the argument that Bankslaughter "deters the normal but doesn’t touch the reckless until it’s too late," may I point out that all laws do this. Manslaughter laws save lives because the vast majority (the "normal") are deterred. The reckless are still reckless but with laws society has the ability to get their sorry asses off the streets and into prisons where they can't repeat their recklessness.

No comments: