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Occupied By Wall Street: Fixing Perverse Incentives in the Financial Sector

September 29, 2011

I’d like you to pretend, for a second, that the Securities and Exchange Commission is something other than the complete and total sham that it currently resembles. I’d like you to pretend, for a second, that SEC agents pursuing white-collar criminals got investigation budgets, not fired.

Yes, I know some things require suspension of disbelief, but if we’re going to fix the greed-driven, bubble-centric parasite sitting at the heart of the global financial system, we need to work on our imaginations, because it’s a big goddamned problem, and any solution is going to have to be very complicated. So where to begin?

First off, it should be obvious that certain sectors of the financial services industry will do almost anything for the holy grail of easy or guaranteed profits. Second, it should be equally obvious that the regulations and agencies we have in place do not do enough to disincentivize the pursuit of ill-gotten profits.

So how do we clean up the system?

One answer seems deceptively simple: we have to provide a system of incentives for good banking practices and disincentives for bad ones, and we have to balance them so that good banking practices are more profitable than bad ones. And so the question evolves:

How do we make bad banking practices into bad banking?

You take away the profits. That’s the missing piece of the financial regulatory puzzle. If you want banks to be good, you have to punish them for being bad. And I’m not talking those paltry fines that the SEC gives out to give it the semblance of legitimacy; if a bank does something illegal and makes 10 billion dollars from it, and the SEC comes in and fines them $500 million for it, they still made $9.5 billion off of bad banking practices. If a kid steals a dozen cookies, taking one of those cookies away is not teaching him a lesson. If you want him to stop stealing cookies, then stop letting him keep the goddamned cookies. It’s that simple.

In my humble opinion, this should be the rallying cry of those Occupying Wall Street:

Stop letting them keep the goddamned cookies. Stop letting them keep our goddamned cookies.

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