Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big To Fail describes, in intimate detail, the days leading up to the collapse of the biggest financial institutions in America. Did the men in that room pull us from the brink or push us over?
"I think they saw that the world was about to fall off it's axis" Sorkin told Charlie Rose last night, when asked why AIG was bailed out. The amount of time to make decisions to try and pull markets from the edge of economic armageddon was less than hours, it was mere moments. Conversations in hallways between meetings that would attempt to pull a careening market from falling off a cliff. They couldn't possibly have time to weigh the consequences of their actions. They were simply in triage mode. Crack the chest of the American economic system, resuscitate, and worry about fixing the broken ribcage later.
Shotgun marriages for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were sought after Lehman Brothers collapsed. Lehman accused JP Morgan of freezing $17 billion in cash and securities that belonged to the embattled firm on the night before it's failure.
A year and a half later there is not a single regulation on the books. Nothing has been done to prevent the same crooks from robbing the store, leaving markets in the same vulnerable position it was before the collapse. Sorkin describes how financial behemoths are "answering to the shareholder, not the community, and that is a huge issue. What's right for the community might not be right for the shareholder." Self regulation is still simply voluntary, and our government naive enough to think they won't try it again.
Guess what, they already are. Sorkin breaks the bad news "Many of those toxic assets are still on the market, and they're bidding them up even higher." Wonderful.
Sorkin describes "a great scene where Ben Bernake and Hank Paulson go into the White House, and President Bush tells them, at some point you're going to have to tell me how this happened."
We're still waiting.