Do Financial CEO's Have Enough Down Side?
By Arnold Kling
If all people cared about was avoiding the possibility of outright starvation, then Sweden would be a country of wild risk-takers and epic slackers. And indeed, on the margin, there are people who don’t bother to invest anything in their lives once their most basic material needs are covered. But most of us care deeply about not failing, even though we are unlikely to actually die of want should that failure take place.
She is saying that financial CEO’s care enough about not failing that we should not worry about the fact that they walk away with millions of dollars while taxpayers have billions of dollars of cleanup costs.
I do agree that at the margin financial CEO’s are more ego-driven than money-driven. (You should immediately think that as a shareholder it would be nice to pay your CEO in pure ego-boost and keep more of the profits for yourself.) But for, say Richard Syron at Freddie Mac, the fear of failure can translate into a fear of losing market share during a subprime boom, so that you’re mostly afraid of not getting into the market.
I look at this crisis as a mountain of regulatory arbitrage. The brightest financial minds focused on ways to pile risks onto banks without regulators being able to see it.
If we are going to have a regulated, guaranteed financial sector (such as banks with insured deposits), then that sort of behavior needs to be criminalized. I would suggest creating a statute that makes conspiracy to mislead bank regulators a crime punishable be long imprisonment. Define the terms in the statute in such a way so as to make prosecution easy–don’t create standards of proof so difficult that a good lawyer can get a guilty defendant off. Such a statute would really, really, raise the risk of setting up schemes to privatize profits while socializing losses. I don’t believe that the financial geniuses were sufficiently concerned about that.