Saturday, April 20, 2024

Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren has been withdrawn as a candidate to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (Photo: New America Foundation)

Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, we were asked about financial reform.

The one-year anniversary of financial reform! Yet it feels as though finance and reform have barely been out on their first date.

If there’s a difference in how U.S. finances operate since the Great Recession, it’s that there seems less capital available at ground level. Just as our corporations are extremely profitable with their fewer employees who are forced to be more productive, the banks act internally as though things are swell (JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, took home a $17 million pay package in February) and helps the rest of us not much at all.

Dimon spoke last month at a conference in Atlanta about the ways financial reform has affected banks, and the way he said it they certainly seemed as have gone through a lot. But Dimon is also the guy who chided Americans in 2009 for not paying their mortgages, and that was less than a year out from accepting a $12 billion federal bailout for a problem his bank helped create.

Even as we shake our heads at the ongoing almost weekly blunders of mortgage-holding banks such as Chase (which is among those foreclosing on active-duty soldiers, on homeowners they’d advised not to pay their mortgage, on homes that have been paid off or that, incredibly, they don’t even hold the mortgage on), we hear only $2 billion has been spent on mortgage relief from an allotted $46 billion in the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program.

Everyone knows the problems foreclosures bring for neighborhood property values and the economy in general, let alone families finding themselves suddenly homeless, but the banks were in such a rush to get the process started that they were “robo-signing” documents and filing false papers with courts. So one financial “reform” is that they’ve been forced to back off, while just last month The New York Times reported that “the foreclosure system is bogged down by the volume of cases,” with New York being the worst off: a 62-year backlog, thanks to court involvement, while all of Massachusetts’ current foreclosures could be done in a decade and some states could zip through its load in a mere two or three years.

The banks literally are letting foreclosures slide because there have been too many for the system to handle.

And only now are real mortgage relief efforts beginning to kick in, including a government program to give unemployed homeowners a one-year break from having to make home payments.

How’s that for timing? Help arrives just as banks are waving off foreclosures like a competitive eater choking on the 60th hot dog.

Dragging the country to the brink

This morass results from the same politicians fighting the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and who just defeated efforts to let Harvard Law’s Elizabeth Warren run it. (After Warren’s removal as candidate Sunday, President Barack Obama proposed another candidate. But 44 Senate Republicans have said formally that they won’t vote on any nominee.) Even though the agency would be devoted to protecting consumers rather than screwing them, U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, says he’s opposed because it “could well become an agency that, while well intended, is not well understood or transparent to Congress or to the American people.”

Unlike the largely unregulated banks and hedge funds that caused the 2007 economic collapse!

The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, meanwhile, an Alabama Republican named Spencer Bachus, gaffed in December that “my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

It seems crazy to us, sure, but these are the financial masterminds who have dragged the country to the brink of a deficit default by claiming Wall Street and the world wouldn’t mind if the country failed to pay its debts or honor its commitments for a while. Among the principles behind their hard-line stance: keeping tax breaks for the richest Americans that added significantly to our deficit and were meant to expire years ago.

Obama continues to tack moronically to the center to meet a crowd of people who’ve fled for the extreme right. He’s trying to follow the Clinton centrist model to reelection next year, somehow not realizing Clinton won because he improved the economy, while we seem headed inexorably toward a double-dip recession because our reforms were weak and the stimulus was too small.

Financial reform? It may not have happened, but it looks as though we’re going to get another shot at it.