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Marketplace Morning Report
Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Theater at financial inquiry hearing

Kai Ryssdal Jan 13, 2010
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Kai Ryssdal: The Marketplace quote of the day this Wednesday comes to us from Phil Angelides. He’s the chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that started its public hearings today.

CHAIRMAN Phil Angelides: If we ignore history, we are doomed to bail it out again.

A little bit funny, but a little bit not so amusing, really. Congress set up the commission in the hopes that it might help untangle the mess that led us to the financial crisis. The guests of honor on opening day were the heads of four big Wall Street banks. Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley. There were some mea culpas in their opening statements.

This, for example, from Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase.

JAMIE DIMON: Let me be clear, as I’ve said before, no institution, including our own, should be too big too fail. We need a regulatory system that provides for the largest firms to be allowed to fail in a way that does not put taxpayers, or the broader economy at risk. Shareholders, management, and unsecure creditors should bare the full cost of failure.

There were some accusations and some righteous indignation. As in this exchange between chairman Phil Angelides and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

ANGELIDES: I’m just gonna be blunt with you. It sounds to be a little bit like selling a car with faulty brakes. And then buying an insurance policy on the buyer of those cars. It doesn’t seem to me that that’s a practice that inspires confidence…

Lloyd Blankfein:…is a institution, probably professional only investors dedicated in most cases to this business.

ANGELIDES: Representing pension funds who have the life savings of police officers…

Otherwise it was mostly a mix of theater and vague solutions.

Here’s John Mack, the CEO of Morgan Stanley.

JOHN MACK: I think our regulators, and the industry, have to focus on complexity. Instruments today can be so complex, that even though, let’s assume I’m a salesperson at Morgan Stanley and you run a pension fund or insurance company, you and I understand what you are buying.

One did get the impression, though, after a day of testimony, that the bankers do know something went horribly wrong.

Blankfein: Anyone who says I wouldn’t change a thing, I think is crazy. Knowing now what happened, whatever we did, whatever the standards of the time were, it didn’t work out well.

Nah, it really didn’t, did it?

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