iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Lydia Fisher

GET UPDATES FROM Lydia Fisher
 

A Financial Dissident Movement?

Posted: 03/20/2012 1:25 pm

Will it take a movement of financial dissidents to initiate the much needed structural and ethical reform within the financial industry?

Challenging the establishment is as old as history. Sometimes going out directly to the public is the avenue needed to have one's voice truly heard. The collapse of the former Soviet Union was sparked by the Polish human-rights activist Lech Walesa who stood up in a shipyard and spoke. With the support of a handful of political and religious leaders, the Communist State eventually crumbled.

When leaders and governments fail to address justice, people mobilize. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," wrote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Is "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs" just the beginning of a movement for those within the financial industry to speak up directly to the public, about "There Were Once Things One Just Didn't Do" -- as a recent article by John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group puts it?

Maybe that's the checks and balances big money power needs.

One can debate the motives ad infinitum of a financial dissident who steps up to challenge the establishment for the "toxic and destructive." One too can debate the motives of the establishment's rush to stem the fallout. After all, a financial firm's assets are largely its people and customers.

Yet, to what extent can we debate the following?

Economist John Galbraith's remarks that "This crisis was caused by financial collapse, rooted in massive banking fraud." That we've largely whitewashed accountability where it matters. During the 1980s S&L crisis, out of 1100 prosecutions, 800 executives went to jail. That allegedly 1.6 billion in customer funds went missing at MF Global. No accountability (as of yet).

Ethics manuals exist on paper, but what of implementation? New regulations have been drafted, but what of implementation? More importantly, we're attempting to regulate an improperly designed system to begin with, when a properly designed system is needed in the first place, then come the regulations.

As the endless stream of lawsuits, settlements for alleged fraud and wrongdoing by "Too Big To Fails" attest, Goldman Sachs is not the only one with problems and shameful behavior.

The 2008 crisis didn't just come out of nowhere, pretty much the whole financial system was in on it -- the willing, the unwilling, the ignorant and the innocents. Some of the same top executives who got us into this mess with the help of Washington enablers have just recirculated -- some remained in their top posts -- their institutions increasingly resembling the "only game in town," propped up by low interest rate policy and the ever present bailout safety net as they are "Too Big To Fail" (systemically too important).

What's next?

The financial system remains structurally unsound concentrated in a handful of "Too Big To Fails" still -- lobbying aggressively to keep it that way. Having government take over the financial industry, at some point, and "running it for its own political ends" is not the answer. Breaking up the "Too Big To Fails" is -- maybe a start for a return to a free market enterprise system where competition and failure risk exist.

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher recently noted: "The five biggest banks in the United States are too powerful and should be broken up ... The financial crisis has left the five biggest banks even more powerful than before... "

Thereby, politically influential.

It's not private profits that are the issue, it's that private profits have been monopolized by those in control of capital. Little wonder, then, the wealth schism. And, in an increasingly technological and consolidation age, we can expect more of the same as we can do more with less. The human consequences -- we're already facing the lowest labor participation rate in decades of just 63.9%.

As the American philosopher Mortimer Adler notes, we need economic democracy (wide diffusion of economic wealth) to have political freedom (participation and voice in one's government). There's much at stake here. Do we have a free market enterprise system anymore when competition and failure risk have been marginalized by political influence and bailout safety nets?

Competition helps knock out those who sell faulty or bad products by driving them out of business, sooner or later. Risk of failure is a built-in accountability mechanism within the free market enterprise system that dis-incentivizes bad risk-taking and mismanagement.

Do we need any further evidence about the "toxic and destructive" than trillions in toxic assets and trillions in bailouts for banks, that created, then peddled "fake triple As?"

Do we need a financial dissident movement to help start the ball rolling that wrong is wrong, no matter how powerful one is -- to bring back competition and failure risk, to restore economic democracy?

A single strand in a rope is not that powerful and easily snapped, but many wound together make for a powerful rope. One unethical action may be insignificant, but repeated enough and multiplied, it's woven into a powerful rope that can strangle, lead to no good. The financial dissident action with other movements already afoot may just be what releases us from that rope -- recasting it or retying it in a new fashion.

A single ethical action may not amount to much at first, but repeated enough times it could make an equally powerful rope. We don't want to discard the system of free market enterprise rather we need to refashion the existing rope one strand, one person at a time -- and re-tie each individual strand into a rope that holds and unifies all with a common mission -- political and economic democracy for all citizens.