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Credibility Trap: When Only Comedy Can Dare Speak the Truth
Here is a link to the entire show from which this clip has been excerpted.

The credibility trap is a means by which the perpetrators co-opt, and essentially attempt to hold to blackmail, the entire power structure of the status quo. Note too how the CEO defense and other gross generalizations of culpability and the law are such an instrumental part of the aftermath of this type of widespread corruption.

These financial con men do not rely on loyalty, trust, and the truth, because they have no part of it. Instead they use deception, threats and blackmail to achieve their ends, always, no matter in what patriotic or ideological wrappers they may seek to cloak their perfidious means.

As a bonus, here is a clip of Russell Brand completely unhinging the spokesmodels and poseurs on MSNBC. I found it to be almost embarrassingly hilarious. These consider themselves to be serious  journalists of the highest order, and look down upon those who struggle on in bringing truth to light without the high pay and reassuring cocoon of corporate sponsorship.

[Jul 17, 2010] Economist's View In Finance We Distrust

I would recommend the just released "The future of finance" a book free to download with entires by Adair Turner, Peter Boone and Simon Johnson among others:

One more before I hit the road to my high school class reunion (35 years):

In Finance We Distrust, by Michael Spence, Commentary, Project Syndicate: Around the world,, the debate about financial regulation is coming to a head. ...
It now seems universally accepted (often implicitly) that government should establish the structure and rules for the financial system, with participants then pursuing their self-interest within that framework. If the framework is right, the system will perform well. The rules bear the burden of ensuring the collective social interest in the systemís stability, efficiency, and fairness


Let me fill you in on something interesting about my take on Merck & Co and their pain killer Vioxx. I really thought the best of Merck. I never thought the managers would ever do anything to harm the reputation they built for themselves. So, as a stockbroker, I built a rather large position in their common stock. Then one day in late 2000, another broker who knew I had built that position in Merck approached me to fill me in on a paper he found about Vioxx. I'll never forget what he first said, "Do you really know what a Cox-2 inhibitor is?" I checked out the article he was referring to, and I began offing that position immediately when I realized people were going to die from Vioxx. As a matter of record, the highest price Merck traded at was from part of a 1500 share position I whacked for a customer in Jackson Hole, WY. I never looked back at Merck again. They knew damned well what they put on the market.

Enron's common stock was another company I traded in heavily, but was completely out of it before April 2001.

My feelings about corporate America changed while I was a trader, and I can't say I miss those days at all. Something happened to upper corporate management during the Reagan and Bush years. Accountability for their nefarious deeds was being overlooked by the DOJ, (unless of course you're Michael Milken, and not sharing your deals by opening a syndicate with the rest of the Street), so management began having no fear to hold more of their own stock, (to manipulate it), than ever before. The DOJ has developed a culture of looking the other way, and old Rudy Giuliani was the one who started it.

What surprises me is that I knew what was going on as far as the DOJ was concerned since the mid 1980's. Why I chose not care was because I wanted my piece of the pie first before I turned to walk away from it all.


I don't think it is possible to have effective cultural norms for the financial system when the distribution of income in this country is so skewed. The wealthy have always lived by somewhat different rules than the rest of us, but today in America the wealthy live in a completely different world. The point of cheating in finance is not just the money, it's to get yourself into the world where rules don't apply.


I agree with MT. Rules are paramount , and precede the widespread adoption and practice of the ethic.

We all have an innate sense of guilt , but a firm rule like "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" , associated with the prospect of a vengeful God who might fuse your bare butt cheeks together with a lightning bolt , transformed that innate sense of guilt into a cultural ethic.

Write down the rules in stone , so to speak , then enforce them consistently , and the ethic will take hold , reducing both the frequency of offenses and the necessary enforcement costs.

The mistake we ( especially you , Bush and Greenspan ) made was in thinking that the ethic , once established , made rules and their enforcement unnecessary.


The H.R. 4173 Bill has been passed, is it not? Screw what we all think needs to be done, somebody needs to figure out exactly what this Bill does.

Nobody read it again, and it's 2000 pages long.

Regulation that makes sense, works for the masses = Good. Over Regulation that works for Politicians and Elites = Bad

Does anybody really know where the masses stand with this Bill? Probably not, but we gonna find out aren't we? With the geniuses we have selected for our leadership over the past thirty years...everybody better cross your fingers.

Bruce Wilder:

It's not your fingers you need to cross, not that it will do you any good.


I would recommend the just released "The future of finance" a book free to download with entires by Adair Turner, Peter Boone and Simon Johnson among others:


Right you are. This is a fallacy of the "invisible hand." Economics is amoral. Left to their own devices in pursuing self-interest, people will act immorally if there is no disincentive for doing so that counterbalances the gains from doing so.

What is the definition of "immoral." Basically, don't do to others what you yourself would dislike done to you. Conversely, the definition of morality is, do to others what you would like done to you. This is agreed upon by virtually all cultures, so it seem to be a feature of human nature. Indeed, recent research shows that primates exhibit an expectation of fairness, and react negatively when they deem themselves treated unfairly.

There is also the liberal paradox to consider, which shows that liberalism is incompatible with Pareto optimality.


Relying on individual morality is like relying on individual restraint to achieve orderly traffic. We have rules, regulations, and authorities with discretionary power to manage Such a (relatively) simple thing as traffic, so Financial System.....

Ohm said in reply to Ohm...

....which swims in money, the most common root of immoral temptations!!

tjfxh said in reply to Ohm...

Exactly. This is why liberalism is fundamentally flawed as a political and economic philosophy. It idealizes free choice and doesn't pay enough attention to the consequences of free choice. Many "rational" decisions are based on the low probability of getting caught or being accountable if one happens to be caught. But it goes a lot further than that. Moral hazard in the financial industry is one example.

Another area is "the rest of the world." The assumption that free markets, free trade, and free capital flows will allocated real resources most effectively and efficiently. It's just fantasy. For example, big players hoard commodities and people in poor countries starve.

We need to redesign the box, and that will take out of the box thinking.

Ohm said in reply to tjfxh...

If you notice, the way International Trade currently operates, its a Libertarian design. You are free to price your goods, and your currency!, pretty much as you like, and there is no International Sales or Income tax on cross border trade. Infact, many exporting countries even exempt export in one from domestic income taxes. And Yet this Libertarian paradigm has reached its end time.....On its own!

All the dollars have accumulated with China while all the goods (to use the Krugman metaphor) are in landfills. The World Trade dysfunctionality and abject failure to endure within 2 decades of the WTO is, I would say, solid evidence that the Libertarian order doesnt endure for long. It produces a few Winners that take ALL, and the game STOPS. But an Economy is a flow, and circulation, Not a Stock Or a Game Final Score. 

In the case of World Trade, you cant even call someone a Winner when that entity actually Won by fiat-pricing its currency so low that none else could compete in the mirage of exchange rates.

Bruce Wilder said in reply to tjfxh...

You might start with the insight that one needs political power, to control the design of the box.

If you have the power, you can have quite conventional ideas, like, "don't lie and steal".

If you do not have power, being clever is, at best, just an idle pastime, and at worst . . . well, worse.


I for one am pleased that Spence's article is getting attention. This one really made my day.

It is important that everyone be continuously reminded how absolutely stark raving hysterical the concept of perfecting legalized collectivism with "ethics" actually is.

"The finance industry, regulators, and political leaders need to create a shared sense of collective responsibility...blah blah"

Right. Like, a higher level of consciousness, man. Everyone needs to smile more.

Let's also note here that all project syndicate's contributors are categorized as "Thought Leaders," the trademark self-congratulations of all those having made their careers at the center of our contemporary "leadership crisis," at least 10 years and running. Clearly the fog of irony is now so massive, and growing, it's no longer visible from the inside. The moral atavism so thoroughly baked in banality, it's forgotten even before it's uttered. It would be the type of thing made just for internet consumption, if not for the fact that it's still the stuff of real day-to-day decisionmaking authority, as we live, a catechism of festering malingery still stinking up the helms of so many of our critical civil institutions.

Indeed, the people behind such noise simply have no public purpose anymore but as living cautionary tales for serious adults on their way to work. Freakshows, if you will.

Please continue to put these, and all the other phony blubbering pleas of resolve from our nation's well-fed flower children, up for the rest of society to see, every day.


Thank you Mr. Thoma.


David Obey says it's "not just something that happened because of the forces of the market."

"I think the more important thing was what was my biggest failure. I think our biggest failure collectively has been our failure to stop the ripoff of the middle class by the economic elite of this country, and this is not just something that happened because of the forces of the market."

So , we've been ripped off ?

Surely they'll catch the crooks , recover the loot , and return it to us , right ?

I hope it's soon. Real soon.


Doctors as the comparative analogy is off the mark. Drs have face time with their patients and see the impact of their diagnosis. The better comparison of Financiers and ethics are children on the school playground. The rules are known and understood. The teachers punish the children for egregious behaviors according to the severity of the offense. Government as the authority refuses to enforce the punishment. Rather they choose to be the financial industry's friends and drinking buddies hoping to win a gig once their "public servant" post has been served. Bill Black has stated many a time the regulations are there and need to be enforced.

Under GWB's tenure, he removed 500 FBI personnel to homeland security and never replaced them. We need more enforcers in the SEC and FBI. Ethics, morals, code of honor and conduct are pretty ideologies and worthless unless shiny bracelets are the prize as a deterrent for bad behaviors that impact the financial structures of a society.

As I've told my kids, "I'm not your pal, buddy, or friend. I'm your parent and my job is help you grow into a responsible adult." It's an unenviable task as an enforcer but an important role in civilized society.


"Yet such values shape other professions. In medicine, there is a huge and unbridgeable gap in expertise and information between doctors and patients. The potential for abuse is enormous. It is limited by professional values that are inculcated throughout doctorsí training, and which are bolstered by a quiet form of peer review."

YES, if by "professional values" and "peer review" one means "hard written laws against fraud" and "men and women deputized and willing to enforce the rule of law."

Seriously. Somebody should be doing some research on the signaling value of Nobel Prizes among the professionals that are actually charged with cleaning up these messes year after year.

rps said...

"......It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united. From the conclusion of this war we shall be going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights.

The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war, will remain on us long, will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights shall revive or expire in convulsion."

 Thomas Jefferson

Anne from Chicago said in reply to rps...

Sadly, we've been following the Jeffersonian model of debtor financing for our dreams....

(Jefferson died $100,000 in debt - in 1826 dollars. Cannot even begin to imagine what the figure would be in today's $$! And this debt meant that the shackles of slavery would remain on Jefferson's human assets - they needed to be sold in order to finance some of that debt.)

Hawkewinde said in reply to Anne from Chicago...

"The question [w]hether one generation of men has a right to bind another. . . is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also among the fundamental principles of every government. . . . I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self-evident, 'that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living' . . .." TJ

Anne from Chicago said...

In pharma, when there are transgressions, the company tends to pay a massive fine. A year after the financial system collapsed, Pfizer was slapped with a $2.3 billion fine for illegally promoting its products - see:

What happened to those who trashed the economy? They got their bonuses.

There has been no repercussions for the behaviors that dragged the global economy off the cliff. In fact, TBTF has grown even larger. I believe Goldman Sachs - as profitable as they've been since the collapse - still has an umbilical cord to no interest money from the feds.

In finance, we've got a system that continues to privatize profit and socialize loss. Why would anyone in an investment bank change their behavior?

What has been a stunning revelation to me - the defense of immoral, indefensible business practices within finance - selling products to consumers while simultaneously selling insurance to others so they can profit when the products fail. I cannot translate that business practice to any other sector. (Help me out if you know where that happens legally elsewhere!)

The moral bankruptcy of our financial sector preceded the financial crash. There is no integrity on Wall Street - and yet they want to be celebrated as heroes.

Hawkewinde said...

"Whereas most prior studies of corporate finance have worked out of a composite-capital setup, I argue that investment attributes of different projects need to be distinguished. I further argue that rather than regard debt and equity as 'financial instruments,' they are better regarded as different governance structures." Oliver Williamson

Something every financier has known for hundreds of years, and why "regulation," in times like this, worries them so. Let us have some hope that by the next crisis, FinReg will, at minimum, restore their free option to beg for liquidation on behalf of their shareholders, and take their old-fashioned sack like the heroes they think they are, rather than to produce such shame as to accept -- from the likes of Barry Obama -- preferred stock or DIP loans with conservatoresque comp limits and behavioral covenants...

"Transcend haggling over regulation" indeed. Receivership is next to godliness, and should never be denied our privatized creatures of the state.

I wonder if any such thoughts ever crossed Mr. Spence's mind during his courageous tenure atop celebrated bankruptcy zombie and eternal fraud vector, "Polaroid Company," back there in the roaring 80s. Perhaps, as a Thought Leader, he could type another article about what a caring attitude and collegial spirit did for markets while he was participating in them, as opposed to how well these qualities have done for, say, his awesome accumulations of academic awards and university chairmanships?

Goldilocksisableachblonde said...

Tonite I heard Ken Feinberg giving a presentation to a crowd of Gulf Coast residents who were impacted by the BP blowout , imploring them to submit their claims and cataloging the variety of legitimate damages that they could cite as a basis for restitution.

It made me think that , in a just world , there would be several hundred Feinbergs out there , doing the same thing regarding the Wall Street blowout. The guilty parties are more numerous but they're just as identifiable , and the damages to innocent victims are multiples of those in the Gulf disaster.

Aghh , never mind.

Back to the real world. The unjust one.

Hawkewinde said in reply to Goldilocksisableachblonde...

And yet, for TBTF banks, the claims would be made on ourselves. Such is the paradox and guaranteed political albatross of systemically integrated FIs.

For example, I have seen a lot of indignation lately about how Obama should be "more like FDR" and "welcome the hatred of the plutocrat class" and damn the torpedoes, along with the law, et cetera.

Well, even if populism were the only variable, it's a little different these days, since the plutocracy is damn near the majority of the population, collectively through intermediated corporate ownership:

Goldilocksisableachblonde said in reply to Hawkewinde...

" since the plutocracy is damn near the majority of the population, collectively through intermediated corporate ownership"

I guess it depends on how loosely you define the term 'plutocracy'.

If America of 1928 fit the definition , I'd say it probably does today , as well. According to this , in 2007 the bottom 90% owned less than 10% of stocks , bonds , and mutual funds. The bottom 50% , only 0.5%.

The prior chart in the same series shows the bottom 90% with 28.5% of total wealth , also in 2007. Much of that would have been in the form of home equity , now much reduced , if not gone altogether.

Update those figures to July , 2010 , and I think you'd have a population the bulk of which would find an FDR-like populist message quite compelling.

If not now , though , before too long almost certainly. Things aren't exactly going swimmingly for the masses these days. The rich , well , let's just say they're different.

Hawkewinde said in reply to Goldilocksisableachblonde...

"Update those figures to July , 2010 , and I think you'd have a population the bulk of which would find an FDR-like populist message quite compelling."

Or, they would just like to have their vested accounts back looking lush and thriving again. Put that on a fantasy menu next to "industrial policy" or "judiciary reorganization" and most would just check the "just make me rich like before" option.

Gini measures are underappreciated and I like whenever they're brought up, but let's keep in mind what it means w/r/t equity ownership. If you are in the 5% percentile, then 5% ownership means just as much to you (or more) than the 90%-ers with all their excess liquidity stuffed up toward the top.

Indeed this is why the rich are different. They have quite a wealth of real options to go along with their cardinal wealth. People stuck in 401ks and rickety pensions, not so much. Nonetheless nearly 3/4 of the country's vested are employed. 20% real unemployment is surely high, that still implies a sound a majority of working adults who really just want their fund numbers back up.

sociophile said...

According to the bestseller "The Sociopath Next Door" by former Harvard psychologist Martha Stout, 1 in 25 people are sociopaths. What does that mean? It's not anything like an internal struggle of conscience, a battle of good versus evil deep in the soul. It's much more frightening and diabolical than that. Similar to someone who is color blind being unable to see the colors red or green, a sociopath is unable to feel emotions like empathy, compassion or love. A sociopath could crush the skull of a puppy and feel nothing at all other than perhaps a passing sense of curiousity at best or, more villainously, a sense of sporting entertainment. After the first few million, I think it doubtful Bernie Madoff cared anything at all about the money. It was all about screwing the dumb suckers, taking it all from the pathetic little ants and getting away with it. I suspect that finance is an industry where the proportion of sociopaths in the population rises significantly greater than 1 in 25. Regulation may not be enough. The threat of harsh and lengthy prison sentences backed up by vigorous and vigilant prosecution may be in order.

K Ackermann said in reply to sociophile...

I think the sociopath potential is in most people.

The police and the military have to train people to be able to aim a gun at another person and pull the trigger.

Some still never will, but for those that do, most report it gets easier the more they do it. Something gets shut off; it's not something missing or extra, it's just shut off.

Bruce Wilder said in reply to sociophile...

Big bonuses tend to attract and/or train sociopaths.

Mbuna said...

Well, let's get to the heart of the problem. Teaching ethics and having it stick only occurs in a cultural circumstance. Certainly in the past (50 years ago let's say) there was a pretty clear delineation between what was right and ethical and what was not. The basis for such ethics of right and wrong was the Judeo-Christian culture that had a very prevalent voice in society back then.

I am stating as fact that the Judeo-Christian religious culture has lost a tremendous amount of influence in the last 50 years and that trend shows no sign of reversing. In fact I would say that the Renaissance was the real start of the world secularizing trend and it has continued to this day. The only real problem with this is that real culture will not last without some kind of real connection to the Source, the Divine, whatever you may wish to call it.

What we have now is no culture, or call it a secular culture if you will. Look back in history for any other secular cultures existence and you will not find one.

In all cultures to one degree or another, if you didn't follow the rules of the culture you were separated or ostracized, and this kept the core of the culture strong. Our present society lacks this necessary instrument of culture which is why I say we have no culture. Government laws do not suffice and if they did then we would have a police state.

So now lets jump back to ethics on Wall St. My point is that in a real culture you could be hired and everyone would not only understand what was required of them ethically but understand the wisdom of behind it. And that fundamental wisdom is the understanding of what works for the greater good of all. As long as we have this secular, adolescent, me first mentality, no amount of government structure and regulation will actually work because the people who need to make the regulation work will not be culturally dependable. This has already been and is currently being demonstrated, in spades. No one is culturally accountable period, so society just kind of festers into a me first free for all.

We all have to dig a lot deeper to begin to grasp the fundamental issue these times confront us with.

Hawkewinde said in reply to Mbuna...

Judeo-Christians don't have a prominent voice in our culture? Give us a break. Or, how about an "indulgence."

"50 years ago there was a pretty clear delineation between what was right and ethical and what was not"

What is this, ancestor worship? 50 years ago, religious zealots beat their wives and lamented the uppity coloreds all six days between services. Only someone who never had to live back in those times would say something so inappropriately glorifying about such a savage era.

And what is currently being demonstrated is that over the last 10 years, the bureaucracy was overrun with foaming-at-the-mouth jesus-school sentinels. Right now is your recommended substitution of competence with "culture" on display.

How about this for a fundamental issue: The backward view that lawlessness is freedom, and ostentatious displays of religious piety is the same as accountability. That is what contempt for "secular" norms of objectivity brings to civilization



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