Saturday, October 25, 2014
12

Zu groß für die Gefängniszelle

WASHINGTON, DC – Zu jedem funktionierenden Rechtssystem gehören unter anderem folgende grundlegende Prinzipien: Fälsche keine gerichtlichen Dokumente und lüge den Richter nicht an, oder du wirst eingesperrt. Das Brechen des Schwurs, die Wahrheit zu sagen, ist Meineid, und unwahre Dokumente vorzulegen, ist sowohl Meineid als auch Betrug. Dies sind ernste kriminelle Vergehen – aber offensichtlich nicht, wenn man sich in der Mitte des US-Finanzsystems befindet. Im Gegenteil: Die Hauptfiguren dort scheinen für ihre Verbrechen fürstlich entlohnt zu werden.

Laut Dennis Kelleher von Better Markets ist der jüngste sogenannte “Robo-Signing”-Vergleich – in dem fünf Großbanken über ihre betrügerischen Zwangsversteigerungen im Hypothekenbereich eine “Einigung” erzielten – ein kompletter Kniefall vor der Finanzindustrie.

Erst einmal gab es keine ernsthafte Strafverfolgung – niemand wurde eines Verbrechens angeklagt und niemand muss ins Gefängnis. In Bezug auf die Boni der betroffenen Manager ist dies das einzige, worauf es ankommt.

Sogar die Terminologie, in der die Diskussion geführt wird, ist falsch. Kelleher, ein Rechtsanwalt mit umfassender Erfahrung in privaten und öffentlichen Fällen, redet Klartext: “‚Robo-Signing’ ist schwerwiegendes, systematisches, betrügerisches kriminelles Verhalten.” Statt dessen, sagt er, nennen wir es lediglich “lügen, schummeln und stehlen.”

Zweitens sind die zivilrechtlichen Strafen in diesem Vergleich – eine Art Bußgeld – im Verhältnis zur Größe der beteiligten Unternehmen winzig. Shahien Nasiripour, einer der besten Reporter über dieses Thema, drückt es so aus: “Keiner der fünf Kreditgeber hat bekannt gegeben, im Rahmen der Einigung monetäre Kosten zu erwarten.” Anders ausgedrückt, ist die Strafe aus Sicht der Unternehmen zu vernachlässigen.

Drittens werden solche Strafen letztlich von den Aktionären der Gesellschaften bezahlt und nicht von ihren Vorständen oder Aufsichtsräten (die gegen einen solchen Fall versichert sind). In den seltenen Fällen, in denen einzelne Personen bestraft wurden, haben entweder ihre Versicherungen einen Großteil der Strafen bezahlt, oder die Strafen waren im Vergleich zu den Boni, die sie während ihrer Verbrechen erhalten hatten, minimal – oder beides.

Als wäre dies noch nicht schlimm genug, können die Banken offensichtlich zur Abwertung ihrer Hypotheken Regierungsgelder verwenden, was bedeutet, dass ihre unbedeutenden Strafen auch noch subventioniert werden.

Die Obama-Regierung und ihre Verbündeten haben sich sehr bemüht, den etwa 20 Milliarden USD umfassenden Vergleich mit den Banken so darzustellen, als hätte er einen bedeutenden Einfluss auf den Immobilienmarkt. Aber nichts ist weiter von der Wahrheit entfernt. Wie Kelleher es darstellt, gibt es in den Vereinigten Staaten “mehr als 10 Millionen Eigenheime unter Wasser” (d.h. sie sind weniger wert als die darauf lastenden Hypotheken). “Zwanzig Milliarden Dollar machen da absolut keinen Unterschied: Das sind gerade mal eine Million Häuser zu je 20.000 $.”

Tatsächlich stimmt die Einigung der Obama-Regierung mit den Hypothekengebern völlig mit der üblichen, völlig unzureichenden Politik gegenüber dem Finanzsektor überein. Aber es ist auch verwirrend. Warum wirft sich die Regierung unter diesen Umständen immer wieder den Top-Bankern zu Füßen?

Ich glaube nicht, dass die Haltung der Regierung etwas mit irgendeiner Art von Korruption zu tun hat – Zahlungen an Entscheidungsträger oder an politische Kampagnen. Und in diesem Fall scheint sie noch nicht einmal durch die Lobbymacht der großen Finanzinstitute begründet. Lobbyismus ist der Grund, warum die Dodd-Frank-Finanzreformen im Jahr 2010 nicht strenger ausfielen und warum der Umsetzung dieser Gesetze momentan so viel Widerstand entgegen gebracht wird (beispielsweise gibt es gerade große Auseinandersetzungen über die “Volcker-Regel”, die den Eigenhandel von Großbanken einschränken würde). Aber die kriminellen Aktivitäten von Hypothekengebern sind noch einmal etwas völlig anderes.

Bei diesem Vergleich geht es um grundlegende und systematische Rechtsbrüche – Meineid und Betrug in gesamtwirtschaftlich ganz großem Stil. Zweifellos verfügt das Justizministerium über genug Macht, diese mutmaßlichen Verbrechen vollständig zu bestrafen. Und trotzdem haben die höchsten Juristen der USA immer wieder einen Rückzieher gemacht – und dies nun auf die Spitze getrieben.

Das Hauptmotiv hinter der Toleranz der Regierung gegenüber schwerer Kriminalität ist offensichtlich Angst vor den Folgen, die ein konsequentes Durchgreifen gegen Bankmanager mit sich brächte. Und vielleicht ist diese Angst angesichts der enormen Größe dieser Banken innerhalb der Volkswirtschaft berechtigt. Tatsächlich sind sie heute größer als noch vor der Krise, und sie sind, wie James Kwak und ich in unserem Buch 13 Bankers ausführlich zeigen, viel größer als vor zwanzig Jahren.

Bankmanager möchten viel Geld verdienen. Und sie möchten nicht ins Gefängnis. Politiker mögen noch so viel Wind machen: Ohne glaubwürdige Drohung mit Armut und Gefängnis haben Banker keinen Grund, sich an das Gesetz zu halten. Für sie geht es immer um Marktanteile – und ebenso, wie man in der öffentlichen Politik scheitern kann, kann man dies auch bei der Vergabe von Krediten.

Die Botschaft, die den Bankmanagern heute vermittelt wird, ist einfach: Mach deine Bank so groß wie möglich – und wachse dann weiter. Wenn du es schaffst, groß genug zu werden, bist du und deine Mitarbeiter nicht nur zu groß zum Scheitern, sondern auch zu groß für die Gefängniszelle.

Und alle anderen wurden von der Obama-Regierung gerade zum Narren gemacht.

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  1. Commentedpeter fairley

    I never read one good robo-signing article and feel it was a very left wing prejudiced issue. Some mistakes were made...but did it really affect millions of people in a criminal way? People don't pay their mortgages and get foreclosed on. That is a clerical issue. A lot of the foreclosures involved homeowners pulling so much cash out their house on re-fi's with alt-a ,subprime and even "normal" loans, they were in effect selling their house to the bank in advance, or even robbing the bank. If you look at the FBI website, you see that the FBI goes after gangsters for doing this same thing. It was a disservice for bank execs, the Fed, the FDIC and state govt overseers to have allowed this, but the homeowners did get the cash and the banks should at least get the keys and be able to take the loss. Mr Johnson has made a bad impression on me in Bloomberg interviews for catering to popular leftist prejudice and would make a better impression here if he detailed exactly how criminal these bankers were to millions of people regarding the robo-signing, otherwise he is just joining the vague left wing and calling names.

      Commentedpeter fairley


      Hi Andrew. Respectfully. The main effect of the robo-signing was to give attorneys a loophole to tie foreclosures up in court for a long time. Nonpaying homeowners got to live rent free for a very long time. Banks were further weakened. Govt purse & taxpayers supporting banks further strained. The markets did not clear, financial crisis prolonged. Have you ever lived in a state like Massachusetts? Lol, I have. Simon Johnson is a famous and somewhat excellent economist but he should not be encouraged to be corrupted by populism & crowd pleasing. That is big part of why we got into this mess.

      CommentedJohn Aho

      Enforcing the rule of law in a democracy is hardly 'left wing'. What are you saying? And since when is defending fraud a "right wing" stance? It certainly isn't a conservative principle. And yes, it really did affect millions of people in a criminal way. Systemic fraud is like that. With respect to prosecuting just the "lawyers", fair enough but they are hired, instructed and paid by their clients to make documentation as complicated as possible. This is what justice has become in America, yet another example of the harm caused by letting the TBTF banks have a free ride to commit fraud against America, that then becomes a defended and honored way of doing business. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is laughing at us. A "disservice". Really?

      Commentedpeter fairley

      Put the lawyers in jail who advised the banks that it was ok to process the paperwork this way. The lawyers generate so much paperwork and complexity, no one can deal with it. How many homeowners were actually harmed by robo-signing? Not many!! This is the worst legal circus since the silicone breast implant lawsuit against Dow Chemical, no evidence of harm but millions paid in damages. The crime was being out of touch with real issues and dangers and this article is following that same out of touch path.

  2. CommentedJohn Brian Shannon

    I think Simon, that your chosen title may be more right than even you may realize!

    No matter which administration would have been in power over the past two years, the result would have been the same. It's not a democrat thing, nor would it have been a republican thing had that party been holding executive power.

    What citizens see as the one-time solution, is merely a down-payment - a dry-run for the next round of financial bailouts for financial institutions, which, according to your calculation is one-tenth, or even less, of what is actually needed to solve the numbers problem.

    I fully expect to see bailout after bailout about every two years, or so, until the numbers return to a stable condition.

    It's no secret that it is up to government to set legislation, regulation and oversight of the financial sector.

    If the government have let standards slide to a certain state of affairs since the 1990's, to now prosecute the individual banks and bankers who merely function under the regulatory controls set and enforced by the government - would seem counter-productive.

    Counter-productive, because those bankers would be only too happy to hold forth in a packed courtroom about the lax regulatory environment they found themselves operating in.

    Rather than air all that in public, the government (any government in power, whether it would have been democrat or republican) just decided to make the problem disappear - using the government two-year installment plan.

    As long as things are kept to a dull roar, the banks will get the money to balance their books, nobody needs to go to jail and the government doesn't need to be embarrassed in the media.

    In the end, all that has really occurred is that the government has acted as the insurer of last resort to the financial institutions that the government were supposed to oversee, but for unknown reasons were unable.

    The Obama administration is merely addressing a problem which evolved into a major event over a time-span of two or three decades.

    If citizens feel they need someone or something to blame, they should at least be told what it is and was, a systemic failure.




      Commentedpeter fairley

      It would be more appropriate here to also give a link or some summary of the lawyers defending the banks. Lawyers get paid to give one side only. Professors should give both sides and additional detail. We need leaders devoted to OBJECTIVE truth and information that includes BOTH sides. Were New England academics banging the table during the Real Estate bubble about too easy credit, subprime & negative amortization loans? about the possibility of a DOWN RE market as well as an UP market? No. They were banging the table and signing formal letters from their colleges that Larry Summers, president of Harvard was sexist and should be censored, or worse.

  3. CommentedSanjeev Chadha

    Isn't their a conflict of interest in possessing such views and yet being a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute.

  4. CommentedAndrew Purdy

    Why should this surprise anyone? Obama has been amazingly good to the Financial Industry. They give only token support to his political opponents (minor hedging of their bets with Romney), and he only pretends to have the DOJ shake a stick at them. A mutually beneficial arrangement.

  5. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    I'm a CPA with a small business practice. The answer to Simon Johnson's question is simple: there's one tax code for "us," and another tax code for "them." Mitt Romney pays taxes in accordance with "them." There are also two sets of "equal application of the law" in this country: one for "us," and another for "them." Banks are "them."

    If you are a small business and taken to court for one the myriad reasons upon which you can be sued, you are forced to settle because you cannot afford to lose and you know that the entire game is rigged against you. The plaintiffs' attorneys' clients will commit perjury like rain coming down on a winter day. In California, the entire civil court system is a temple to perjury and fraud; a system designed to shake down insurance companies. That is why Johnson's opening sentence is naive: false documents and perjury are a commonplace in our system.

    The US Congress has decided to let moral hazard go by the boards. Let the future shift for itself is the message. What we have is what Congress wants: a system of privilege that Congress can hold hostage to campaign contributions and cushy post-retirement jobs (People have been paying Rick Santorum, a truly failed ex-senator, almost a million a year to be a lobbyist. Imagine what someone with some intelligence must make!).

    Once again Simon Johnson is to be commended for making clear the serious fundamental problems with our banking and finance system.

  6. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    The article raises the question why big banks should be above law when it comes to punitive actions for crimes committed that led to bail outs with tax-payer funds that were stratospheric in nature. The question is perhaps not about how big the problem could be compounded to merit such a denouement, the moot point is how the process had been rigged right from the start when the bubble had been orchestrated by an ensemble of ‘banker-intermediary-rating agency - legislature-judiciary’ system that was based on the fundamental assumption that prices have only one way to go regardless of all other signs in the economy. But if the corrections have now been made with commensurate fall in net worth of all affected individuals it is noteworthy that big bankers could still stay completely unaffected going by the positive change in their net worth, that in some ways is a malaise for the common good.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  7. CommentedJake Lopata

    You are being very critical here, U.S. law has taken shape over the course of our history. I don't think it's a stretch to assume that some of the biggest players in history have helped shape our Laws (for better or worse).

    Where we are today is only our own fault, we have allowed the legal system to assume its present form.

    If you want to stop bailing banks out, letting crooked bankers off the hook, and create justice for those who were victims; then you fix the system.

    This is the largest and most daunting, yet necessary, task of all.

  8. CommentedPatrice Ayme

    The law was the domineering notion ruling the Roman state. It lasted 5 centuries under the form of a pure republic. And, overall, 21 centuries in maximum extent.

    If there is no respect for the law, there is none for the republic, nor civilization. The non prosecution of some of the most major criminals may have the exact same effect as it did in Rome, namely switching from a republic with elections to a fascist empire with much fewer elections. This is exactly what is happening with the most major bankers right now. Worse: to make sure they will not be prosecuted, they augment their influence.
    By the way, as Goldman Sachs was the biggest private contributor to Obama's 2008 campaign, it is more than curious to claim that corruption played no role in Obama's decisions. The evidence, as history will no doubt remember it, is the exact opposite.

    But distorting even the most basic common sense is what is taught when the law is grossly violated for all to see.
    http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/no-law-no-republic/

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