Reforming the banking system is do-able and necessary. Here’s how.
By Hazel Henderson and D.Wayne Silby, President and Founding Chair, Calvert Social Investment Fund
JPMorgan Chase's $2 billion loss on its London-based hedge funds' over-leveraged bets increases fears over TBTF megabanks. Dodd-Frank and its Volcker Rule were behind the curve, as were its regulators. Even CNBC's commentator Joe Kernen called for reinstating the simple Glass-Steagall separation of deposit-taking FDIC-insured banks from all other financial activities.
In the 1960s, Wall Street firms' partners pledged all their net worth. As they went public, the game changed to OPM (Other People's Money) and risky leverage took off. With no personal skin in their games, senior managers became even less accountable – even to their shareholders.
A key is restoring accountability to financial executives. Thus, we call on socially responsible investors and institutional funds to file shareholder actions at all TBTF and larger banks demanding that the board of directors and senior managers pledge half of their net worth to be available in the event of a bank's failure. This is less draconian than pledging all their personal net worth as in the 1960s. Other shareholder reforms are taking hold, such as the "Say On Pay" to curb excessive salaries and bonuses. Imagine the focus this would bring to board meetings!
All the efforts since 2008 to rein in Wall Street have left the biggest banks even bigger – with taxpayers still on the hook.
So, confidence in our financial markets still plunges, retail investors flee Wall Street, savers are punished by zero real interest rates while the Fed's discount window provides generous, almost free money to these TBTF banks, coupled with QE1 and QE2 trillions to prop up stock markets. All this taxpayer support to finance is based on economic textbook assumptions that this money would trickle down to Main Street and that banks would lend it to revive the real economy.
Instead, they hoard it or, like JPMorgan Chase, send it to their London hedge fund or elsewhere in the global casino. We applaud Senator Sherrod Brown’s SAFE Banking Bill, limiting banks’ size and leverage. Support for breaking up TBTF banks is joined by Richard Fisher, President, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; Sheila Bair, former FDIC chair; Tom Hoenig of FDIC’s board and other experts. Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the IMF, agrees and is circulating a petition to urge Jamie Dimon to resign from the New York Fed's board.
The Promise of Bretton Woods
Many have now joined Ethical Markets Media's call for Transforming Finance and agree that finance must return to its useful role of serving the real economy rather than continue its current unaccountable extraction activities. Global finance is part of the commons, as acknowledged since Bretton Woods in 1945. Financiers do not simply provide capital but are intermediaries between savers and borrowers seeking to produce real goods and services.
The Biggest Bubble: Financialization
Instead, financialization is now the biggest bubble: making money out of money. Many governments, academics and NGOs have now joined Ethical Markets' call for a less-than-1 percent financial transaction tax to curb speculation and repay taxpayers for the trillions in bailouts still propping up banks. In the U.S. alone, this is $23 trillion (SIGTARP).
Many companies are now refusing to give any campaign funds to any politician of any party. Many groups are organized to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision now flooding U.S. elections with unaccountable millions – much from financial interests. Shareholders can demand that management refrain from contributing corporate funds to any politician.
But the best way to concentrate the minds of financial executives is to again require that they put their own skin in the game. Responsible investors, let's go!