Unstructured Finance

Outrage isn’t asleep it’s just gone underground

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

Where is the outrage? A year ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement was just getting started, with mass demonstrations across the nation against corporate malfeasance and greed.

But now it’s been crickets and we don’t mean the game. There’s been no marching on Wall Street nor on the steps of Capitol Hill since the latest revelations of bad behavior in the financial sector. The populist uproar has been rather sedate in the face of the deepening scandal that big banks rigged Libor–a benchmark lending rate; JPMorgan Chase’s mounting losses from disastrous credit bets and a possible cover-up attempt; and the disappearance of customer funds from Iowa futures broker PFGBest, discovered after its founder tried to commit suicide and left a note outlining a 20-year fraud.

But the lack of populist rage doesn’t mean there’s a lack of concern about these and other scandals. We think that’s a misreading of the temperature of the American people. And if Wall Street thinks the average person doesn’t care about the nearly $6 billion trading loss at JPMorgan Chase, or the alleged Libor manipulation scandal , then the street is badly misjudging things.

As documented in “Banks behave badly redux: Is it killing confidence?” earlier this week, the spate of Wall Street horror stories is having a real impact on the markets. Interest by individual investors in stocks is way down and isn’t showing signs of coming back any time soon. Retail investors are showing their disgust by walking away—something we first noted a year ago in our story on The Madness of Wall Street.

In some ways it’s a quiet protest investors are showing and in some ways maybe more damaging than protests in the street. Maybe there is no outrage because investors and the public have come to believe they don’t expect much better behavior from Wall Street. In other words, the new norm is to expect the worst of the street.

Who changed the financial crisis narrative?

By Matthew Goldstein

So riddle me this: How did we go from blaming “banksters” for all our financial ills to now casting teachers, cops and firefighters as overpaid government slackers who are keeping an economic recovery from picking up steam?

Somewhere, somehow, the narrative of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression changed. Not too long ago, all the talk was about exotic securities backed by crappy mortgages, inadequate bank regulation, excessive CEO pay and burdensome consumer debt. Now the conversation in Washington and Wall Street is more focused on overly generous pensions for public employees and the levels of government spending on the poor, for education, new roads and middle class health benefits.

This isn’t too say that runaway government deficits aren’t a problem that need to be addressed–most likely with a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. But the financial crisis didn’t begin in summer 2007 with concern about government spending.

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