Bethany McLean: Over a year ago, a crowd of people stormed the home of Bank of America executive Gregory Baer, chanting “Bank of America, Bad for America.”
Kai Ryssdal: Commentator and Vanity Fair staff writer Bethany McLean.
McLean: Bank of America was not the only target of people’s rage: There were also bus tours of AIG executives’ homes, protests against Goldman Sachs, and much more. “Will we stop?” changed the protesters at Baer’s home that spring day. “No,” they answered.
It’s not like the banks have changed their ways. Last fall, the news broke that the big banks had been foreclosing on people’s homes without following the proper process. And yet, the loud outbursts do seem to have stopped. Where has the rage gone?
One theory is that the protests didn’t seem to accomplish much. Take regulation: Banks are still lobbying heavily against new regulations. They don’t want to hold more capital. And the stock market has soared. Banks have been producing profits and paying big bonuses again. The battle seems to have been lost.
The rage against the banks seems to have been replaced by a deep fear about the state of the United States. Unemployment is rising again, and there are justifiable worries about the country’s debt burden. People are angrier at the politicians than they are at the bankers.
In any event, there’s a great irony at work. Regulators are poised to impose higher capital requirements on banks. And that will likely crimp their profits. So the lobbying hasn’t paid off entirely. Profits are falling for other reasons, too. There are fears of a debt crisis in Europe. And banks won’t earn as much when consumers use their debit cards. Those fees have gone down. Almost every Wall Street firm is planning another round of layoffs.
In other words, there’s little evidence that the banks are treating consumers any better. But they are feeling the pain where it hurts them the most: their bottom lines.