Thursday, March 19, 2015

The wasteland of Diogenes

Recently, RtO noticed Barry Eichengreen's dual history of the Great Depression and the Great Recession. Among the important points made by Professor Eichengreen (but not mentioned in my short review) was the role of insider trading in the Great Depression. He gave special attention to insider trading in London.

That was over 80 years ago. Today Bloomberg News has a little story about how

Before the 2008 financial crisis, no one had ever been prosecuted for (insider trading in Britain).
American regulators have done a little better but not much.  While reading this story, you might want to keep in mind that 1) Bush II wanted to turn ALL of your retirement money over to these people; and 2) that the Republicans have argued for over 30 years that regulation of financial markets is a bad thing.

The quarry in the London hunt were small fry. It would take a fool to imagine that more and worse was not being done (and is not still being done) by the grand players. Blomberg marvels that

Rifat and an accomplice made a mere 285,000 pounds on insider dealings — pocket change in the hedge fund world.
This shows an endearing innocence (or else profound stupidity, you choose) about financiers, but we are invited to swallow even worse nonsense:

Operation Tabernula raises many questions, including the big one: just how serious is insider-trading anyway? Some academics question whether U.S. and U.K. regulators should spend so much time and money on these investigations when, for example, few banking executives have been held accountable for the excesses of the mortgage boom. 
Call it the "leave the broken windows alone" theory of policing crime. To sensible people, what it suggests is far more and far more stringent regulation of financial markets: call that the Willie Sutton theory of policing: look for thieves were the money is. Or, if you are of a more literary turn of mind, the "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" theory.

In any event, this destroys the light regulation arguments.

I am not saying it would not be a big task:
 According to the FCA, authorities scoured 10 million emails and 110,000 lines of trading data. Sixteen separate raids, involving 143 investigators, were conducted in conjunction with the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
 All to capture fewer than a dozen thieves, whose penalties, so far, have amounted to less than a burglar in Hawaii would get for stealing a television set.

Until bankers and brokers start doing hard time, and lots of it, and until crooked banks and brokerages are shut down and their shareholders are wiped out, you will be robbed.

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