Guest column: Not like the rest of us
Work your heart out,
Get no thanks;
Wages scarfed up
By the banks.
You may have noticed that laws governing you and me tend to be rather rigidly enforced, whereas laws governing banking and finance are more loosey-goosey. Word is this has something to do with us little guys not putting enough money into political campaigns, which the big guys do. Is that too cynical?
At any rate, the officials anointed to run the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and White House advisory panels all seem to be from Wall Street, not groups out to make the industry more accountable to us consumers. It makes little difference whether a Democrat or Republican occupies the White House.
As a result, wealthy citizens get treated with kid gloves while the rest of us have to toe the mark. Even among banks, the big players get bailed out while the small ones get closed out. In one example of that special care, for our benefit Congress passed a law capping credit card interest rates, but left plenty of time for the big banks to jack them up before it takes effect. Thanks a lot.
Similarly, Congress restricted cash bonuses for Wall Street, so now brokerages simply reward their employees with stock. New rules also require the behemoths to meet stricter home foreclosure standards, yet few inspectors are hired to enforce them.
One clue as to what still lies in wait for us hapless consumers was recently divulged by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), the new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. In a moment of careless candor, he observed, "Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks."
The Republicans' primary tactic has been prohibiting the use of any funds to enforce existing reforms. This scheme is an especially hot topic in health care, and now looms grimly over financial controls as well.
Many recent reforms were the product of last year's much-publicized Dodd-Frank law. It plugged up numerous banking loopholes but still left plenty unfilled. Since the Democrats still control a Senate majority, the new House leadership may not have much success reopening those recent plugs. So their new game is simply to leave them underfunded.
Some of those remaining loopholes protect local car dealers and community banks. These were purposely left out of the law so that they could keep on swindling us with fine print. I suppose it should be comforting to know that it's not only the national players who get to do that.
Meanwhile, at the higher echelons of business, there are other disturbing changes. More and more major corporations, including some banks, are no longer even publicly owned. Vast private pots of cash from hedge funds and oil sheikdoms have scooped them up, thus lowering their disclosure requirements. Losing this big chunk of publicly traded business might be one reason why a German company is buying out the New York Stock Exchange. There just aren't as many transactions to take a percentage of anymore.
So as the United States, like Great Britain before us, gradually abandons its manufacturing and service sectors, it focuses more on big finance. That's where the fancy business school grads go nowadays. The big money lurks in schemes and scams--and in lobbying, making sure they stay protected from government meddling. These big guys are so malicious they even have the nerve to overcharge our soldiers. Banks are now bought and sold like Monopoly properties with a few slick folks at the top siphoning off millions while laying off workers.
Better we should all join a credit union.
William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn.