Front page NYT
piece details the belatedly obvious about i-banker compensation leading to systemic risk because so many people got zillions in bonuses peddling mortage-related securities that were fated to implode. Now there's no ability to get the money back when the profits firms booked on all this flimflam turns out to have been illusory. Highlights:
....Wall Street’s pay structure, in which bonuses are based on short-term profits, encouraged employees to act like gamblers at a casino — and let them collect their winnings while the roulette wheel was still spinning...For now, most banks are looking forward rather than backward. Morgan Stanley and UBS are attaching new strings to bonuses, allowing them to pull back part of workers’ payouts if they turn out to have been based on illusory profits. Those policies, had they been in place in recent years, might have clawed back hundreds of millions of dollars of compensation paid out in 2006 to employees at all levels, including senior executives who are still at those banks.
It's hard to believe there's no legal theory that would let shareholders or creditors claw back some of these billions in ill-gottens gains. But even if not, there ought to be creative ways to shame these folks for their behavior. After all, it's probably only a few thousand people at these top banks (and maybe far less) who got filthy rich doing something that's soured the economy for the other 300 million of us. So here's a thought: Why can't the feds condition any use of the TARP money on access to each bank's records so that the names of people who got rich peddling stuff that later sank the national economy could be published in a very high-profile way. I'm thinking of some public display that looks like the Vietnam Memorial in DC -- a simple but devastating list of names (and maybe the amount of each person's misbegotten earnings). Except this time the people wouldn't be heroes who gave their lives, they'd be on the Wall of Wall Street Shame - people who got rich literally sinking the country.