Nine Better Choices to Investigate Wall Street
Do you know who’s on the “Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission” (“FCIC”), the 10 member Congressional committee that’s now investigating the (ongoing) financial crisis?
Neither do I — and neither, I submit, do the vast majority of Americans. In fact, I’d be shocked if 5 in 100 knew that the FCIC existed. (If you’re a fan of Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” segment, apparently there are plenty of people who don’t know who George Washington or Abraham Lincoln are — let alone Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi.)
The FCIC, of course, is the heir to the infamous (Ferdinand) Pecora Commission, which laid bare Wall Street abuses leading up to the 1929 stock market crash, and set the stage for overhauling this country’s financial regulations.
Regulations such as Glass-Steagall, the Securities Act of 1933, and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 — regulations that were highly effective, and worked as intended for almost 70 years (the financial – regulatory equivalent of getting 300,000 miles on your last car).
In fact, the FCIC has been meeting since Summer, and is headed by Phil Angelides, the former Treasurer of California (Phil who?!?)
With the exception of Brooksley Born, former CFTC Commissioner (and famous would-be regulator of credit derivatives) . . . I can’t name, or even recognize, a single other commissioner.
Which is a double shame, for two reasons: 1) today’s financial crash calls for the most serious kind of inquiry, conducted by the wisest, most experienced people available; and 2) we’re blessed with many such people, presumably ready, willing, and able to serve — if only asked.
In that vein, here’s a short list of political and business luminaries who should have been chosen for the committee, in addition to Born (I’d then let the panelists choose their own chair).
Paul Volcker. “Tall Paul.” Who knew that a public servant overseeing Wall Street could be wise, scrupulously independent, and, well, public-spirited? If there were a financial Mount Rushmore . . he’d be on it.
John Bogle. One-time mutual fund pioneer, now full-time thorn in the industry’s side (they deserve it).
Jeremy Grantham. Legendary investor, scathing (and correct) Wall Street critic.
Bernie Madoff. Yeah, he’s still going to burn in Hell, but using his knowledge to repair the system he defrauded might buy him a little redemption.
Marcy Kaptur. Ohio Congresswoman (and MIT grad) who had the courage to call out Goldman Sachs. Longest-serving woman in the House of Representatives.
Elizabeth Warren. Harvard Prof. who’s in line to head the Consumer Financial Protection Agency — if it’s ever created.
Nell Minow. The conscience of corporate America (not an oxymoron). Longtime shareholder activist (with Bob Monks) at the Lens Fund; co-founder of The Corporate Library. World-class expert on corporate governance, executive compensation.
Simon Johnson. Former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. Who knew that all his experience helping Third World, “Banana Republics” clean up their finances would prove so relevant to the U.S. today?
Ross Kaplan. As a Minneapolis-based Realtor, has great insight into housing market; plus, brings a “non-Beltway” perspective to the financial mess. Other credentials: former corporate attorney and CPA; Stanford econ degree; widely published and quoted blogger. Founded Bulletin Boardroom, Inc. in 1992 to harness corporate governance to then-emerging technologies.
(Regarding that last choice: hey, it worked for Dick Cheney! If you don’t recall, George Bush picked Cheney to vet his VP choices in 2000 — and Cheney picked himself.)
Just to make clear that the Committee has a broad mandate: make sure that it has sweeping subpoena power, an unrushed timetable — and no less than than 20% of the budget Ken Starr got.
P.S.: Every good team has a deep bench. Here are some honorable mention picks: Joseph Stiglitz, Floyd Norris, and Thomas L. Friedman.