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Contemplating regulating

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Rick Horowitz
January 26, 2010

If people were perfect, you wouldn’t need so many laws. So many rules, and regulations.


This just in: People aren’t perfect!


They’re human beings—even when they’re wearing pinstriped suits.


So then the question is: How much do you trust them to behave themselves? And how much do you paint lane markers on the highway? And even put up the occasional stop sign, or red light?


We’re talking, of course, about Wall Street. The Big Banks. The Big Investment Firms. The Big Players who love to make the Big Plays, and have the Big Salaries—and the Even Bigger Bonuses—to prove it.


And when the big plays go bad? Really bad? When the smart guys with their weekly massages and their can’t-miss formulas have to come crawling to the government, begging the feds to rescue their butts, and the feds do just that? Lend them hundreds of billions, despite the political heat they’re bound to take for it, and pull them out of their death spirals?


(No, this really happened! You must have heard about it; it was in all the papers.)


Anyway, when the big boys are imploding and the government steps in as the savior of last resort and keeps them more or less intact—well, you wouldn’t expect the big boys to be permanently humbled. They’re Wall Street, after all, and humility is not a growth stock. Although maybe the tiniest bit of gratitude would be appropriate. Even a drop of two of shame, just to make the rest of us feel righteous.

Dream on!


But certainly the big boys ought to be willing to accept a few more lane markers, and a few more stop signs, yes? Or at least allow the feds to restore some of the ones that were taken down or painted over during the last who-knows-how-many years of “Just do it”?


Instead, that is, of fighting tooth and manicured nail against any hint of tighter standards and sharper-eyed people to enforce them?


Because you can make a very good case that it was cutting back on those laws, on those rules and regulations, that put us where we are today. That made this great financial meltdown possible in the first place.


And that we saw exactly what can happen when the government takes itself out of the lane-painting business, and the red-light business, and lets the big boys rule the roads on the honor system.


The rest of us become crash-test dummies.


Because, when you come right down to it, honor really isn’t the central operating principle on Wall Street either—or hadn’t you noticed? There are other, stronger, motivations at work. Most of them have dollar signs, with lots of zeroes after them.


And those dollar signs, with all those zeroes, can tempt people to do all sorts of things—including things they shouldn’t be doing. Things no sensible (let alone perfect) person would ever think of doing. Dangerous things, for them and for the rest of us.


So somebody has to be watching.


Say “Thank you,” big boys.


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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