BIG CORPORATIONS BEHAVING BADLY

FULL POST: One of the themes that runs through many of my blog posts is the prevalence of corporate power in our politics, policies, economy, and lives. The power of large, often multi-national, corporations is evident in:

as well as in consumer protection laws, workplace and labor law, and the topics that our corporate media cover and don’t cover.

In this post, I’ll focus on efforts to weaken financial regulations and consumer protections, including some that are likely to come up in Congress in the near future. In my next post, I’ll share some other examples of the power of big corporations to tilt the playing field in their favor.

The large Wall St. financial corporations are wielding their power in opposing regulations and oversight intended to prevent another financial sector collapse and bailout like the one in 2008. Much of the fighting is over provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that it created. Wall St. has been working hard to delay, water down, and repeal regulations under the Dodd-Frank law, in spite of their success in weakening the original law.

One of their tactics is to slip provisions weakening regulations and oversight into unrelated legislation that must pass, hoping their provisions will pass with little or no attention in Congress or among the public. Last December, when a must-pass year-end budget bill was being considered, they slipped in a provision repealing the requirement that their trading of risky investments called swaps (a kind of derivative) had to be conducted by entities separate from those that held insured deposits from individuals. The budget bill passed as did the repeal of the swap regulation. This means that $10 trillion of risky trades are held by banks that have federal deposit insurance. If these risky trades turn sour and produce big losses, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and perhaps other government agencies will have to bailout the banks to make sure depositors don’t lose their insured deposits.

More recently, in October, Wall St. lobbied hard as bank regulators set the amount of money banks have to keep in reserve to cover potential losses on these risky trades. They were able to reduce the amount of these reserves, called the “margin requirement,” which increases the likelihood of a bailout at taxpayers’ expense.

With two pieces of must-pass legislation coming up Congress, the expectation is that Wall St. will again try to slip additional provisions into these bills to weaken regulation and oversight. The two bills are the year-end budget bill and the bill funding highway construction and maintenance. [1] One target appears to be the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was the target of a recent $500,000 advertising campaign that falsely accuses the CFPB of denying people loans. (The CFPB doesn’t make loans; it regulates lenders to prevent them from making predatory and fraudulent loans.)

We have a Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate and protect us from dangerous consumer products and a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to protect us from dangerous automobiles (e.g., ones with faulty air bags or ignition switches). However, until Dodd-Frank passed, we did not have an agency to protect consumers from unsafe or predatory financial products. In Canada, where they did have such an agency, the incidence of predatory lending and mortgages was a tiny fraction of what it was in the US in the years leading up to the financial crash. This is a key reason the impact of the crash on homeowners and consumers in Canada was minor compared to the trillions of dollars of losses suffered by Americans.

I urge you to keep an eye out for efforts by our large corporations to bend policies – laws and regulations – to benefit themselves at a cost to consumers, workers, citizens, and small businesses. Contact your Members of Congress and tell them you’re tired of big corporations making out like bandits (sometimes literally) and getting away with it at your expense.

[1]       Hopkins, C., & Brush, S., 11/11/15, “Lawmakers urge regulators to hold the line on risky trades,” The Boston Globe from Bloomberg News

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