"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." Those are the words of Jesus, and they couldn't be more relevant that they are today on Wall Street. Some very large financial giants triggered a massive economic crisis that has caused suffering for millions of people, and we still don't know exactly what happened. It's time to learn the truth behind the irresponsible, risky and selfish behaviors that plunged our nation and so many families into this painful mess. Today, I joined one effort to do that; and I invite you to join with me. Here's the story.
One of the giants whose practices led to the 2008 financial crisis was AIG -- the American Insurance Group. When it was on the verge of collapse, the federal government intervened with a bailout that ultimately totaled $180 billion. Now, as several major banks are re-paying bailout funds in order to get free from strict government regulation, AIG is beginning to discuss a similar action.
Yesterday, three of the leading corporate investigators -- Eliot Spitzer, former attorney general and governor of New York; Frank Partnoy, professor of law at the University of San Diego; and William Black, professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City -- wrote in the New York Times:
A.I.G. was at the center of the web of bad business judgments, opaque financial derivatives, failed economics and questionable political relationships that set off the economic cataclysm of the past two years.
They urge that before any deals are made to end government (read: taxpayer) control of the company, we should demand answers to questions such as: Who knew what, and when? Who benefited, and by exactly how much?
And, they conclude that:
The three of us, as experienced investigators and prosecutors of financial fraud, cannot answer these questions now. But we know where the answers are. They are in the trove of e-mail messages still backed up on A.I.G. servers, as well as in the key internal accounting documents and financial models generated by A.I.G. during the past decade. Before releasing its regulatory clutches, the government should insist that the company immediately make these materials public.
Since AIG is now 80% owned by U. S. taxpayers, it is more than appropriate that we know the truth here. A citizens group has created a website urging people to sign An Open Letter to the Trustees and US Congress, asking that all of these documents be released to investigators. I've signed it, and urge you to do so. With the economy still struggling to recover from the crisis AIG helped to create, with tens of millions of people unemployed and home foreclosures growing, we deserve to know how and by whose decisions this happened in order to hold them accountable. This is what democracy requires; this is what morality requires, this is what religion requires -- to tell the truth.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street--A Moral Compass for the New Economy, Editor-in-Chief of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.