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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Bailing Out the Banks

Rome, Italy

Rumors that Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, would again reduce interest rates by at least 25 basis points elevated Asian and European stock markets and rattled the New York Mercantile Exchange oil speculators.

Normally, such an action by the Fed— the all purpose government guarantor of “Wall Street’s” reckless risk taking — would be viewed as stimulating the overall economy. But what is on the financial tycoon’s minds these days is the rapid metastasis of the sub-prime home mortgage crisis.

Beyond its shielding effect on large U.S. banks and their collapsing stock values, this crisis has depleted banks and mortgage lenders in Europe and Asia, and invited an assortment of credit and liquidity bailouts by central banks, and left the large investors caught in this spider’s web.

So, the spotlight is on Chairman Bernanke for another temporary rescue of the reckless risk takers in the financial economy he so dutifully services.

But a closer look is warranted on the role of Chairman Bernanke and his predecessor, Alan Greenspan. How did this sub-prime mortgage situation cast such a long and devastating net from the hundreds of thousands of people who are and will lose their homes to the fat cat financiers finally caught in the act of inebriated risk management?

First, the Fed almost never criticizes the banks. It just rescues them again and again in a variety of ways often obscure to the general public or camouflaged as these banks are considered too big to be allowed to fail. The bankers, knowing that the Fed fire department is always around the corner, push the risk envelope to the edge.

It was left to the conservative German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück this week to condemn the “snotty attitude that we have sometimes seen under the motto of ‘we are cleverer than the others’ — [that] ended in disaster.”

Minister Steinbrück made it clear that the “disaster” meant the global credit squeeze, and several mismanaged German banks which he specifically named — Sachsen LB and IKB.

Imagine Greenspan and Bernanke even climbing down their reassuring abstraction ladder in time to head off such financial turmoil for many small investors, pension funds and workers who pay the price.

Imagine the Federal Reserve Bank, whose budget came from the financial community in order to avoid accountability to Congress, enforcing the law against a lending spree, fueled by repeated deception and cover ups?

The airy Fed does neither. It sees its job as injecting tens of billions of dollars to avoid liquidity and a credit crunch crisis. Corporate socialism is its beat, and its signal to Wall Street is that these rescues for the Street’s addictions will be on tap at all times

Grumbling all the way, Europe’s central bankers have been engaged in their own domestic rescue operations flowing from the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Why, ordinary taxpayers and consumers may ask, do mortgages extended to homeowners on Elm Street, USA, circle the globe with some much disruption? Because unlike the old days when the local mutual savings and loan association was doing such a quiet, prudent job raising America’s home ownership rate to record highs, the S & L’s are gone and the security speculators have taken over.

Large bundles of home mortgages are bundled into securities which are then transformed into even more abstract and complex risk packages. The greater the risk that these packaged securities entail, the greater the profits.

Until, that is, the deck of cards start falling to real ground, which is what began to happen this year, and next year will be worse in both these key sectors of the economy, with its overall effect on the general economy.

In the meantime, the muscle of the financial industry’s lobby is making sure no regulatory framework passes Congress or even is given no-holds-barred public hearings in the Senate and the House.

The sheer arrogance of this financial business suckled by government dispensed welfare is not restricted to the U.S.

German Finance Minister Steinbrück, trying to calm fears, still acutely observed that the bankers and financiers had “mocked” his attempt at enhanced transparency, deliberately characterizing such efforts for great disclosure as “regulation” when Steinbrück’s initiative called only for voluntary codes.

Let’s drop the enduring myth that these big time, very well-paid speculators are free-wheeling capitalists broadening markets for low-income people. They are wasters of capital (largely using other people’s money as with worker pension funds.) not their own stakes.

Such even wilder speculation, generated through even more complex speculative instruments in a super-sonic computer age, will continue until people, who pay the final bills, organize as voters and consumers to make their supreme government cut the corporate welfare umbilical cord that extends from Washington, DC to Wall Street.