In an essay in Bloomberg Businessweek, financial journalist Roger Lowenstein compares those calling for more criminal investigation of Wall Street to 9/11 truthers and conspiracy theorists. He also distinguishes the current crisis from the S&L debacle by claiming that “The bankers convicted in the savings and loan scandal who dealt sweetheart loans to friends were fraudulent. These people had their hands, willfully, in the till—and knew it.”
You would think that anyone making that argument would want to engage with the work of William K. Black, who has repeatedly compared the finance practices of 2003-2008 to those which led to the S&L crisis. But no, Lowenstein appears too detached to confront Black’s ideas, which have been published in articles and finance sites, and repeatedly debated in televised programs. Praised for his prior work by Paul Volcker, George A. Akerlof, and many other luminaries, Black is off Lowenstein’s radar.
Lowenstein also fails to address the structural foundations of the recent lack of prosecutions; namely, the lack of referrals from financial regulators to law enforcers:
[D]ata supplied by the Justice Department and compiled by a group at Syracuse University show that over the last decade, regulators have referred substantially fewer cases to criminal investigators than previously. The university’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse indicates that in 1995, bank regulators referred 1,837 cases to the Justice Department. In 2006, that number had fallen to 75. In the four subsequent years, a period encompassing the worst of the crisis, an average of only 72 a year have been referred for criminal prosecution.