Weathering Wall Street’s perfect storm

By Jordan Harp

Another week, another financial crisis it seems. Last week it was Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG, before that it was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and all of it led off by Bear Stearns. There are reports that Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs might just go ahead and jump on the bandwagon. And why not? With the government already set to perform a massive $700 billion intervention to save the troubled financial companies that have already gone under, it would be stupid for a floundering company not to.

I’m not going to expound too much on the wisdom of such a move by the government. In the short term at least, as long as Congressional Democrats don’t try to make a political game out of it, the Treasury Department’s moves seems to have sort of stemmed the flood of panic, causing the Dow to close down only 0.3 percents last week. Yet, at the same time, this sets a dangerous precedent that says irresponsible lenders and borrowers can rely on the government to pick them up when things go bad.

This has all led to fear of a new Great Depression, finger-pointing over who’s at fault and what-we-should-have-done-better statements. In a Sept. 15 statement Barack Obama called it “the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression,” an overstatement if there ever was one.

He proceeded to blame policies of the Bush administration and the Senator from Illinois., along with John McCain, also blamed failed regulation.

Far be it from me to diagnose where exactly it all went wrong, yet both candidates seem to show an amazing lack of perspective on the whole thing. Obama, in his blame of the Bush administration, ignores the fact that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have existed like they are under multiple administrations as government-sponsored enterprises, or quasi-private companies. Recently, one of their biggest defenders has been Barney Frank, a Democrat who chairs the House Financial Services Committee. And when the two of them cite the failed regulation, they overlook the fact of how incredibly unpopular regulating would have been a few years ago when everything was booming. Subprime lending, one of the main instigators of the current crisis, are issued by financial institutions to those with poor credit histories – namely, poor people. To say, back then, that we need to cut back on such practices would have been akin to saying we shouldn’t give money to people who need it most. I’m sure that would have been a politically popular stance.

McCain has issued statements that aren’t a whole lot better. He has said, “We cannot tolerate a system that handicaps our markets and our banks and places at risk the savings of hard-working Americans and investors.” The last thing this whole episode has shown is that our markets are handicapped. And the savings that are put at risk are by people that choose to put them at risk. He has also promised to fight “greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street.” Good luck with that.

Both candidates seem to be driven by certain forces. Obama is driven by partisan politics. The current financial meltdown is happening under the Bush administration, so it is a perfect opportunity to try and make the point that McCain will be exactly the same and further drive us into the “Great Depression” that he foresees. McCain, always wanting to be the crusader, seems to see everything is as a moral crusade, the battle of good versus evil.

Ultimately, I believe, this whole situation will blow over and people will be wiser for it. We will see that quasi-private/quasi-public companies with government backing are not good situations. We will understand better what are and aren’t good business practices, and when companies suffer for practicing them, we won’t penalize taxpayers for the business’s mistakes.

This whole period highlights the unfortunate weakness of the system: Unethical people take advantage of their positions to earn money in questionable ways. But before everyone rushes to slap increased regulations and restrictions on the market, remember that is what might take away from the true strength of the system, the dynamism and opportunity it provides.

A lot of the bad decisions that led to this mess were made during times of euphoria, yet just as many bad decisions can be made when times are bad.

Jordan is a junior in MCB, and is predicting the Cubs will get swept in the first round.>