Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Practice precedes theory
note taking. posted -by me- here and here
Wilmers [NYT] seems to think of banking as a social exercise. His 'rational self-interest' is bounded by a sense of obligation.
"honorable profession"
"involved in their communities,"
"the prudent extension of credit that furthers [the] commerce [of others]"

Gamblers are fundamentally asocial but good ones do well even in a crisis. Wilmers has imbibed or was raised into a moral ideology that obliquely or not abjures the 'objective' model of individualism. He's a practicing social democrat.
The idea of the social isn't very interesting. It isn't even very social.

Wilmers’s report, however, was less about the company’s numbers than about the dismal state of his beloved profession. Wilmers, it turns out, is that rarest of birds: a banker willing to tell harsh truths about banking. That, for instance, much of the money the big banks earn comes from trading profits “rather than the prudent extension of credit that furthers commerce.” That derivatives had helped bring about the crisis and needed to be regulated. That bank executives were wildly overpaid. That the biggest banks — the Too Big to Fail Banks — were operating, as he put it, an “unsafe business model.”

...This was a problem for several reasons. First, it meant that banks were taking excessive risks that were never really envisioned when the government began insuring deposits — and became, in effect, the backstop for the banking industry. Second, bank C.E.O.’s were being compensated in no small part on their trading profits — which gave them every incentive to keep taking those excessive risks. Indeed, in 2007, the chief executives of the Too Big to Fail Banks made, on average, $26 million, according to Wilmers — more than double the compensation of the top nonbank Fortune 500 executives. (Wilmers made around $2 million last year.)

Finally — and this is what particularly galled him — trading derivatives and other securities really had nothing to do with the underlying purpose of banking. He told me that he thought the Glass-Steagall Act — the Depression-era law that separated commercial and investment banks — should never have been abolished and that derivatives need to be brought under government control. “It doesn’t need to be studied for two years,” he said. “I would put derivative trading in a subsidiary and tax it at a higher rate. If they fail, they fail.”

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