Hedge Funds and Prop Desks Are Not the Problem
Watching the President announcing the proposal championed by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker to forbid commercial banks from engaging in proprietary trading or growing market share beyond a certain size, we are reminded of the reaction by Washington a decade ago in response to the Enron and WorldCom accounting scandals, namely the Sarbanes-Oxley law. The final solution had nothing to do with the actual problem and everything to do with the strange political relationship between the national Congress, the central bank and the Wall Street dealer community. We call it the "Alliance of Convenience." The basic problems illustrated by the Enron/WorldCom scandals were old fashioned financial fraud and the equally old use of off-balance sheet vehicles to commit same. By responding with more stringent corporate governance requirements, the Congress was seen to be responsive -- but without harming Wall Street's basic business model, which was described beautifully by Bernard J. Reis and John T. Flynn some eighty years ago in the book False Security.