Many have said that the country’s financial institutions operate on a “pay-to-play-dirty” system. Break laws, get caught, pay a fine, go back to breaking laws, wash, rinse, repeat. Financial reform advocates want justice, we want to hear to clicking of handcuffs around the wrists of those executives who lied to American consumers and broke the economy.
But maybe even that isn’t enough.
Bank of America has been ordered to pay $16 billion in a settlement related to a mortgage-backed securities suit and no one will go to jail. The bank is just being punished without being ordered to fix what it broke. Richard Eskow, a blogger for the Huffington Post, makes a keen observation about what should really happen to financial centers like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.
Eskow notes that 9.1 million homes are still underwater from the recession as of this year’s first quarter, meaning these homeowners are paying at least 25 percent more on their house than what it’s worth. That’s 9.1 million people and families who are still paying overpriced mortgages, forcing them to fatten the wallets of the lenders that screwed them over in the first place. If they can’t pay, of course, then they’re out on the street.
Over-inflated mortgages were a key factor in the Great Recession six years ago; mortgages got too expensive, people couldn’t pay them, and mass foreclosures caused the housing market, and the economy, to tank. Because of this egregious behavior, what did the Justice Department do? They wanted to investigate and punish, but not punish too much because of the “too big to fail” mantra, meaning the Feds were afraid of harming the economy even more if they cornered the Wall Street money boxes and went for the jugular.
Six years later, Bank of America, one of the biggest offenders, has now agreed to a $16 billion settlement without any criminal charges. That’s not enough punishment, and to hell with “too big to fail.” This is where Eskow comes in and makes some really thoughtful points about the settlement and real justice.
Settlements require no compensation or relief for the consumers who are underwater on their mortgages whatsoever. Secondly, banks aren’t required to return homes to customers upon whom the bank wrongfully foreclosed. And the Justice Department doesn’t ask the bank to forfeit any wrongfully obtained money to customers or to restore a customer’s credit. Just pay your fine and be on your way.
That isn’t a constructive reaction or punishment to such a severe situation.
If the Justice Department were to do all of these things as noted by Eskow, there would be true justice. But that isn’t the case. What we have, however, is a bank whose legal-reserves money will be about $16 billion less (the bank will make that up by year’s end), no executives or managers arrested, and millions of defrauded and defunded customers who will remain undefended.
And so continues the cycle of abuse and unregulated wrongdoing by our financial institutions. If rules and laws aren’t set in place to prevent such a disaster from happening again, banks will not relent until another financial crisis occurs, at which point they will pay another easily recoupable sum of $16 billion and move on.