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Shark Sightings from Cape Cod to Wall Street

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It happens every summer, reports of shark sightings off the shores of Cape Cod. This year, as in past summers, local authorities closed beaches in the towns of Chatham, Wellfleet and Truro. To some tourists, who looked forward to vacationing on the beaches of Cape Cod, this was not only a disappointment but considered an overly cautious decision since no fatal shark attacks have occurred in Massachusetts since 1936.

Still, sharks do occasionally attack people. On Monday, July 31st, a tourist swimming at Ballston Beach on the Cape's National Sea Shore, had his legs bitten by a shark. Nevertheless, a recent University of Florida study indicated that shark attacks in the United States have decreased over the past decade, down from an average of 39 attacks per year to an average of 29 in 2011. Those attacks, often coupled with the public's memories of the horror movie, Jaws have consistently led the Cape's town fathers to err on the side of caution, even at the risk of losing business from unhappy vacationers.

Ironically, marine biologists report that sightings of the great white shark -- the largest predatory fish in the ocean -- are more frequent off the Massachusetts coast than ever before, a result of an uptick in the grey seal populations that frequent the warm waters of Cape Cod.

Simultaneously, there has been an sharp increase in reports of shark sightings on Wall Street and these seem to be multiplying at an unprecedented rate. Witness the financial crises of 2008, the Bank of America debacle, the Goldman-Sachs double dealings, J.P.Morgan Chase alleged miscalculations, suspected collusion in setting the Libor rates and most recently, the use of customer funds to stave off M.F. Global and the Peregrine Financial Groups' alleged embezzlements. Unlike marine biologists, economists and politicians have difficulty pin-pointing the core cause of such attacks upon the American public. Like the carefree seals of Cape Cod, the average citizen swam blithely through the warm waters of the late 1990s and early 2000s, enjoying easy credit, a housing bubble and an enduring faith in the rock-bottom stability of financial institutions. Without warning, the submerged jaws of corporate greed suddenly surfaced, swallowing in its ravenous maw the America public's lifetime investments, stocks and pension plans, effectively consuming the once-bright futures of millions of aging baby boomers for the sake of big bonuses.

A new generation of finance shark pups have been growing in the muddy waters of big business since the 1980s, at first by nibbling at the regulatory restrictions of the Glass-Stegall Act and then in 1999, with the assistance of government regulators, the U.S. Congress and the executive branch, by enabling the investment banks to swallow it whole. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the pups, who were growing fatter and bolder in every fiscal quarter, stirred the bottom of the ocean floor with subprime loans made to gullible home buyers and in the ensuing murk offered rating-agency approved loans to feckless institutions. Among them were the nation's mutual, endowment and hedge funds and many of its pension plans. In those opaque but seemingly free-flowing waters of the first years of the twenty-first century, the American public blithely accepted offers of easy-to-obtain credit.

That, combined with fathomless leveraging by the now fully-matured finance sharks, led to the cresting of an illusory affluence. Inevitably in 2008, the cross currents of financial engineering produced a whirlpool which sucked the American public's investments to the bottom of the ocean. Bereft remnants of America's middle class now cling breathlessly to the rocky cliffs of financial ruin as they contemplate an uncertain future dangling just above the still-snapping jaws of their Wall Street predators.

The great white shark, for all the bad raps it has received, it is not a greedy creature. It never eats to excess but only for its own survival at the rate of one seal every three months. The same cannot be said about Wall Street. Had our politicians, economists and regulators respected the cautionary example set by Cape Cod's town fathers, the sharks of Wall Street might never had feasted upon the American public. Our economy might still be well afloat and our nation's homeowners never known the anxiety associated with being "under water."