I knew Charles Keating, the head of Lincoln Savings, in my capacity as a financial regulator and as the subject of his wrath. His fraud schemes and the manner in which they targeted our system’s vulnerabilities in an era before Citizens United made the corruption of politicians by fraudulent CEOs child’s play remain the play book for the world’s most destructive financial frauds. Our failure to learn the ten lessons has caused immense suffering. Keating’s life, and the great harm he caused, will not have been in vain if we step back and use the occasion of his death to reflect on the changes we need to make.
Author: William Black
The problem of not understanding fraud mechanisms is most intense among economists, who typically do not study fraud, do not understand fraud mechanisms, and have a tribal taboo against even writing or speaking the word “fraud.”
The appraisers’ petition began in 2000 and was public. When the regulators and prosecutors did nothing in response to the appraisers’ warning the appraisers delivered it to government officials to ensure that no one could say they were not warned. What tends to be forgotten is that the mortgage industry’s leaders did nothing to restrain the fraud epidemic and a great deal to expand it.
A recent study confirmed that control fraud was endemic among our most elite financial institutions.
The culture of fraud in economics is a severe problem, and Harvard is a “hot spot” of that culture.
April 9, 2012 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the most infamous savings and loan fraud, Charles Keating’s, successful use of five U.S. Senators to escape sanction for a massive violation of the law. The Senators were Alan Cranston (D. CA), Dennis DeConcini (D. AZ), John Glenn (D OH), John McCain (R. AZ), and Donald Riegle (D. MI). They became infamous as the “Keating Five.” I was one of four regulators who attended the April 9, 1987 meeting. I took the notes of the meeting, in transcript format, that were so detailed and accurate that the Senators testified that they were sure I had tape recorded the meeting. Reviewing my (near) transcript of the April 9 offers a large number of important lessons that would have allowed us to avoid future crises.
The imminent passage of the fraud-friendly JOBS Act caused me to reflect on the fact that the worst anti-regulatory travesties in the financial sphere have had broad, bipartisan support. The Garn-St Germain Act of 1982, which deregulated savings and loans (S&Ls) and helped drive the debacle, was passed with virtually no opposition. The Texas and California S&L deregulation acts – the two states that “won” the regulatory “race to the bottom” – passed with virtually no opposition. Texas S&L failures caused over 40% of total S&L losses and California failures caused roughly 25% of total losses. In 1984, a majority of the members of the House of Representatives, including Newt Gingrich and most of the leadership of both parties, co-sponsored a resolution calling on us to cease our reregulation of the S&L industry.
The JOBS Act is insane on many levels. It creates an extraordinarily criminogenic environment in which securities fraud will become even more out of control. One of the forms of insanity is the belief that one can “win” a regulatory “race to the bottom.” The only winning move is not to play in a regulatory race to the bottom. The primary rationale for the JOBS Act is the claim that we must win a regulatory race to the bottom with the City of London by adopting even weaker protections for investors from securities fraud than does the United Kingdom (UK).
Germany and Papademos have ended Greece’s political sovereignty, but Greece gave up its economic sovereignty long ago when it adopted the euro. Two aspects of national economic sovereignty were inherently lost with nations that gave up their own currency and adopted the euro. A member nation could no longer have a monetary policy and it could no longer revalue its currency. The designers of the euro required a measure sharply curtailing the member nations’ remaining economic sovereignty. The demand that the euro nations surrender the last vestige of their economic sovereignty was deliberate. The euro’s designers viewed national economic sovereignty as the gravest threat to the euro’s success. Their great fear was that inflation could lead to a weak euro, so they adopted the “Stability and Growth” Pact to sharply limit the member states’ ability to control their fiscal policies. The Pact forbade member nations from running material budgetary deficits even during a severe recession or depression.
The troubling paradox is that the strongest proponents of “broken windows” theory and policies in the blue collar crime context are the strongest opponents of applying analogous policies in the elite white collar crime context.
Consider the statements by the UK leadership that the UK has “run out of money.” Does anyone think that the UK financial leaders believe that statement? If Germany declared war on the UK tomorrow would the UK surrender because it had “run out of money” and could not “afford” to increase expenditures to defend the nation? The point is that nations, when faced with the need to make enormous, emergency expenditures, rediscover through necessity the knowledge of how monetary operations actually work even if they previously were captured by economic dogmas that asserted the opposit
The Obama administration’s record of prosecuting elite financial frauds is worse than the Bush administration’s record, which is a very large statement. Neither administration has prosecuted any elite CEO for the epidemic of mortgage fraud that drove the ongoing crisis. This contrasts with over 1,000 elite felony convictions arising from the S&L debacle. The ongoing crisis caused losses more than 70 times greater than the S&L debacle and the amount of elite fraud driving this crisis is also vastly greater than during the S&L debacle.