Don’t Blame Wall Street - At Least Not Completely

by: Markos Kaminis

My dear friends, Americans, we stand this day on the precipice of abyss, and while I never mince words, I neither exaggerate words in saying so. A horrible misconception is greatly disturbing me, and I feel it's fueling a good deal of argument against this bill.

You want to blame the rich blue suits of Wall Street, because you are sure they are to blame and you are comforted to hear others doing so as well. Also, you see Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns now nonexistent and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) fighting for survival. You note the stock market is nearing 30% collapse, and you see Wall Street on the front page of your daily paper. You hear about the excessive compensation of self-seeking CEOs, and you witness the witch hunt for their heads as human behavior drives counteraction.

Many people, many segments of American industry are to blame for the mess we are in, and even you and I are to blame. Just the same, it was Wall Street's contribution to this mess that is the same contribution which allows almost every American the opportunity to own a vehicle, and even a home. What separates the average American from the average third world suffering citizen is surely in part American creativity, invention and will. Why does a man in one nation have a job at Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), Target (NYSE: TGT), The Olive Garden (NYSE: DRI) or Disneyland (NYSE: DIS), and own a car and a home, while another across the world struggles to keep his family alive? You can partly thank Wall Street for that, because one man is not more intelligent than the other, nor embodies greater work ethic than the other.

Wall Street did nothing more than create financial securities, specifically secondary markets in asset backed securities, that allowed Americans to live the American dream. They created securities, they bought them and sold them, held them for investment and traded them for fee. That's all they did. Meanwhile, as a result, the every day Joe was able to own a home and a new car too.

I'm not saying that excess does not exist on Wall Street; that would be gravely naive. Certainly excesses generated from greed took a well-intended idea, however profitable, and led it to dangerous extreme. But Wall Street is not solely to blame for that, nor is Wall Street solely to blame for every stock market downturn or economic cycle trough. Wall Street bears the pain the most, and enjoys the fruit at the highest.

Let's not overlook others equally at fault:

Credit Rating Agencies

Let's start with the credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor's (NYSE: MHP) and Moody's (NYSE: MCO), that supposedly analyzed these securities and negligently labeled too many of them investment grade. That little mistake which made no difference as long as home values rose, made all the difference as the housing bubble busted. It was their job to decide how risky these investments were, so how hard was it to envision the scenario of home price decline and why didn't they? Is price decline so abnormal as to not be included in scenario analysis?

Each bank that now owns these securities, and falls into bankruptcy because of holding them, trusted these organizations to do their job correctly. They were supposedly a trustworthy voice to be believed in these matters. Nothing was sold that was not rated by these organizations. So don't blame Wall Street alone while ignoring Water Street!

These assets, whether backed by mortgage loans, commercial loans or consumer credits, embody the securities the Treasury Secretary plans to buy with your $700 billion. These are the illiquid assets that are clogging the financial system. These are the securities that prevent banks from lending to one another. These are the securities that marked-to-market are now worth well below the value they were suppose to have, the value that was supposedly appropriate for the risk born. These are the securities that cause your banks to take massive charges. These are the securities that lead to insolvency. These are the securities that have caused bankruptcy. These are the securities that our government now needs your tax money to purchase, $700 billion to $2 trillion in total, to remove from the balance sheets of our financial system. So, if you are looking to place blame, consider these firms equally to Wall Street's financial designers.

Mortgage Brokers

It was mortgage brokers who created liar loans. It was mortgage brokers who extended opportunity beyond its natural reach. It was mortgage brokers who propagated the excesses of housing price rise, partly at least. Most of these people are out of their jobs now, but many banked their profits and walked away. Sure, after the fact, many came to trial, but part of the blame belongs there as well. Also, some of the banks that originated these loans took on great risk for the sake of greed. These banks are not on Wall Street, but it's easier to blame the guys on the golden hill for all our woes. Greedy men in these other banks originated bad loans, and sought Wall Street's help to package them and sell them since they could be rated investment grade and dumped onto others. That greed is partly to blame as well.


Look no further than the mirror.

We neglected these errors. You and I, our elected officials, and the agencies we've established to watch over the activities of mortgage brokers, credit rating agencies, lending practices and securities creation, the collective group of us failed.

And please do not politicize this. This is not a Republican problem nor a Bush Administration issue. It's not the creation of the Democratic Party either. This is not John McCain's fault, nor Barak Obama's misunderstanding. This is a problem endemic to our society.


Our society is to blame - our encouragement of easy living and good times.

The cheating we overlook in our schools, the free pass we give to negligence there; the selfishness throughout our society and deficiencies of our family structure; these are to blame as well. The easy going mentality that we have sown into our society, the 9 to 5 work day we arrange so as to allow for the life we think we deserve, this is to blame. The little consideration we give to our day's work and to our life's passing, this is to blame.

More specifically, the priority we give to Thursday night bar outings, beginning in college and extending throughout our lives in many instances, this is to blame. The priority we give to sports over church, this is to blame. The speed with which we rush to fight, before we offer outreach, this is to blame. The "entitled-to mentality," the "me first" way of thinking, this is to blame. The circle within which we enclose our love ones, and at the same time use to keep out the rest of the world, this is to blame.

People just like you and me made these mistakes, and people like me and you allowed it to happen by not staying informed with the goings on of our society and by not seeking to improve upon it. But, we looked the other way didn't we. After all, we were happy while driving our new cars, which we surely could not afford without credit nor deserved due to equal value work completed. Same goes for that first home we purchased. It made it easy to look the other way, to completely miss the "too good to be true" rule.

So don't go blaming some fictional enemy you've created on Wall Street. I've been to Wall Street. I worked on Wall Street. I know Wall Street, and it's no different than Main Street.

Of all the fools I've seen speak today in the House of Representatives, there were a few clear-minded voices I now admire. Maxine Waters, for one, is neither from my neighborhood nor from my party, but she made perfect sense today and her voice deserves credit.

Not Bailing Out Wall Street

The most important point I can make is that we are not bailing out Wall Street. Wall Street is bankrupt already. The Wall Street machine is broken. We're not bailing out Wall Street, but if we were, they would deserve as much as the Main Street banks we really are saving. Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM) is not located on Wall Street. Wachovia (NYSE: WB) is neither on Wall Street. National City (NYSE: NCC) is no where near Wall Street. Corruption is not isolated to any one place, no matter what you think. Also, wealthy individuals are NOT always corrupt, whether they own a car lot in Pennsylvania or a brokerage firm on Wall Street. You know as well as I do, corruption is not a rarity in our society. Selfishness is not uncommon. So, please do not draw a black circle around a place somewhere far away where people just like you and me live and work. Some of the worst men I'll ever know work on Wall Street, but some of the best men I'll ever know also do.

Our financial system needs fixing. This is the problem. These assets and their faults are not the sole responsibility of Wall Street, though Wall Street is feeling the pain more than anyone so far. You know, sometimes the sick are shunned just because they are ill. Lepers were sent to far away places long ago, just because they had a problem. All throughout history, men have been blamed for their own problems. People have been killed because of the problems of smaller societies they dwelled within. Wall Street is reliant on trade, and so when liquidity dried up, Wall Street got sick first. But, this problem is not the sole responsibility of Wall Street.

Sometimes people are to blame for the problems of many innocent, but these assets have existed for a long time my dear friends, and our economy thrived partly because of them. The average Joe in America has lived a far better life than the average Joe in the third world, partly because of these securities that allowed for it. So, while I will not absolve Wall Street of all blame, I will not attribute all the blame to those folks either. But, most importantly, the other financial institutions now sick with the cancer of these securities need radical surgery. Otherwise, make no mistake, you will get sick as well. These are your banks, and they fund your life.

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 just failed in the House of Representatives. I am reviewing the bill in detail. I suspect I will also find faults with it. However, we must support some form of government intervention, which I believe should be based upon the Paulson plan; because otherwise I believe we very well could see the support of the failings of Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich led bull-headed, self-righteousness (and ignorance) help to destroy American life as we know it.