The weekend revelation National Economic Council chief Lawrence Summers received almost $5.2 million in salary and other compensation last year from hedge fund DE Shaw and Co, and hundreds of thousands more in speaking fees from other banks, has dealt another blow to the administration’s fast-waning credibility on financial reform.
Summers and protege Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have already attracted criticism for a strategy many commentators believe is unduly favorable to Wall Street.
For all the talk of beefed up supervision and stringent capital requirements in future, financial assistance to the banking system has come with few conditions. Anxious not to offend powerful Wall Street interests, Treasury staff have consistently pushed back against attempts to impose compensation restrictions or other penalties on recipients of public funds.
It all stands in marked contrast to the tough line being taken with General Motors and Chrysler. Bank chiefs were invited to discuss the industry’s future at the White House; GM CEO Richard Wagoner was summarily dismissed.
Wall Street’s special treatment is justified by citing the industry’s pivotal credit-creating role. But there is a widespread suspicion financial interests have captured the government agencies, legislators and senior officials meant to regulate them. It is the type of rent-seeking behavior common in emerging markets and associated in the past with militant industrial unions and President Dwight Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex.