Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Institutionalized Conflicts of Interest

America needs to undo change that produced massive conflicts of interest over several decades. Such conflicts are now institutionalized in commerce and government operations.

Goldman Sachs profited hugely from trading activities. It did so 98% of the time in the 2nd and 3rd quarter of 2009. Jeremy Grantham wrote:

Proprietary trading by banks has become by degrees over recent years an egregious conflict of interest with their clients. Most if not all banks that prop trade now gather information from their institutional clients and exploit it. In complete contrast, 30 years ago, Goldman Sachs, for example, would never, ever have traded against its clients. How quaint that scrupulousness now seems. Indeed, from, say, 1935 to 1980, any banker who suggested such behavior would have been fired as both unprincipled and a threat to the partners’ money.

My grandfather was an accountant, an executive with Price Waterhouse. He would've been appalled by the move into consultancy. How could one be an impartial accountant while trying to sell consulting services? Arthur Anderson imploded alongside Enron for such shenanigans.

A longtime Southern Senator was taken aback by Haley Barbour's taking money from defense firms. He said something like, "we make decisions about those companies, how can we take their money?" Washington, D.C. is now characterized by corporate influence peddling using "fists full of dollars."

Few declare conflicts of interest. Alston & Bird's Bob Dole and Tom Daschle shared a Sunday TV round table on health care reform. Neither disclosed their lobbyist employer, which represents health care firms with big stakes in the outcome.

Al Gore, blue/green PEU (private equity underwriter), failed to mention his significant investments in green companies during his interview with Katie Couric. How many firms with Blood & Gore tainted money are mentioned in Al's new book?

Public-private partnerships are the rage. Politicians and their close relations dance on both sides of the PPP cash sluice. Watch who bellies up to the trough, but hides their engorgement when cameras come around. Don't count on media personalities to ask journalistic questions.

Institutionalization is deep. "Regulation" will do little to disturb hegemonic money flows. America's unethical leaders won't change the system that keeps them in high cotton. For that, the people pay a price. Diogenes would wander incessantly within the D.C. beltway, searching for a man who would declare his conflicts of interest.

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