As you shelter yourself in a cool closet from the hailstorm of healthcare promotion, Congress and the President are sliding into home plate with compensation controls in the senior offices of financial firms, … for starters. The new Corporate and Financial Institution Compensation Fairness Act will provide no other than the SEC with the ability to establish the rules on how executives are paid, and will enable government agencies to effectively control the “inappropriate risks,” practices of financial companies. Institutions with less than $1 billion in assets will be exempt. This further intrusion into the fiber of corporate America by those who have completely failed in carrying out their responsibilities to the electorate is another misguided kneejerk reaction.
This bill will empower government bureaucrats to control compensation plans that will threaten the safety of financial institutions, or adversely impact economic conditions or financial stability. Have no fear, the newly hired experts will figure this part out, what it means and how to implement it, and they will diligently look after your interests.
There’s hope, however, with some minor good news in this bill that resides in its provision for procedures for shareholder approval of golden parachutes. What this portion of the bill looks like in final form will dictate whether or not it makes any sense, but in the meantime, three cheers for the crumbs thrown at demands for common sense. We shall not hold our collective breath. Another clause that might have provided teeth in a corporate structure fix was the providing of a voice to shareholders on executive pay. It failed miserably in its final form, since the shareholder vote on executive pay will be non-binding, therefore will leave shareholders where they were before, … “we’ll tease you with a little influence on the company you own, but, … naah, just kidding, get lost and go back to your trading screens.” Shareholders, large and small, should have greater influence on the proceedings of the public companies they own, and such influence should be addressed at the Board of Directors level. The government is not improving the lot of shareholders, but is escalating its own intrusion into the boardrooms of America.
We should remember that this is the same Administration and Congress that couldn’t even track the bailout money, or put strings on the money to restrict it from getting dished out in the form of bonuses. This is also the government that threw those billions at financial institutions on the pretext that they had to be bailed, to avert a depression, yet no one in government could tell you where that money actually went. So how was it, exactly, that those bailout billions were allocated? The toxic assets could not be defined or audited, which means that the fear mongering and threats were outright lies. Wall Street skunked this Administration, as well as the last one, and as a result a colossal extortion of the taxpayer was allowed. Did anyone making these horrendous decisions ask the hundreds of thousands of businesses from coast to coast what their banking preferences might be? … Would you rather deal with a gigantic-too-big-to-fail-market-dominant bank headquartered in New York, or a medium or smaller sized regional bank? When did “failure” get expunged from the dictionary of American Capitalism?
Government intervention has reduced competition in the banking sector, allowing the favored few bailout-receiver-therefore-government-backed behemoths to attract investor support, and has enabled their acquisitions of not so fortunate competitors.
All of this frenzied government activity pretends to be response to the outrage against some of the insanity exercised by some like AIG, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. The $11 billion plus, awaiting the bonusable at Goldman should soon make for incendiary fireworks, and support the government cause. Using public anger as cover to implement invasive measures is rather expected from a government that has failed to acknowledge or accept any responsibility for the environment that incubated the bubble which burst into a recession. Giving more power to vehicles such as the SEC for example, reminds us of the abject incompetence the SEC demonstrated through the economic extravagance that allowed Wall Street the power and influence to exploit, and then erode, the financial health of the Nation. Did the SEC also not have a front row seat to Bernie Madoff’s implementation of an extensive 40 year long grotesque personal compensation program?
Sweeping expansion of government incompetence into corporations is an invasion that will not be reversed. Other more intelligent policies should be considered instead of launching clusters of bureaucrats to invade company offices in all corners of the country. One could consider implementing laws against monopolies, but it would be more effective to start with segregating the large banking institutions into more pure line of business sectors. It really comes down to reinstating certain portions of the Glass-Steagall Act that was repealed in 1999. Hundreds of millions were expended by the large banking institutions to achieve the repeal of the Act, therefore a reversal would be very difficult. Given the present climate of Washington dependence on Wall Street cash, even “difficult” might be a stretch, however, such reinstatement would bring back some peace of mind to taxpayers in the long-term.
The critical functions provided by undistorted banks operating within narrow guidelines should be reconsidered. The contamination of many banks over the past decade, with the annexation of such things as brokerages, and the underwriting or trading of complex securities, should be reversed. Government should direct existing oversight bodies to perform their duties, including the enforcement of laws dealing with asset requirements, capital ratio leveraging, and lending guidelines. Then, government might provide shareholders with more teeth to bite when necessary, and leave them to rule over freshly formed and more independent Boards of Directors.
A constituent of the vast baby boomer generation with a career which has been fortunate to know the ponderous corporate worlds, as well as the intimately pressurized, and invigorating entrepreneurial domains of high tech and venture capital, I have harvested my share of mistakes meandering through corridors of enterprise from Silicon Valley, to London and endless, colourful, sometimes praetorian points in between. The voyage has provided an abundance of fodder for a pen yielding to an inquisitive keyboard, a foraging mind, and a passionate spirit.
Whether political or business or social or economic or personal, is it not all political? It is a privilege to write, and an even greater privilege to be read by anyone, and sometimes with the wind at my back the writing may occasionally be legible. I do not write to invite scorn, nor to invite respect, but if I get really lucky the writing can stimulate thinking. I also write for the very selfish purpose of animating my own processes, and engaging the best of what life offers. Above all, whether biting fire or swatting shadows, I am grateful to be gifted the freedom to write and publish whatever flows down to the keyboard. To all those who enabled this freedom, and to all those standing guard to preserve it, I am indebted.