ARE RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY NOT TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN?
If you "Google" the right keywords and patiently read through hundreds of search results, you will eventually find some senior level Wall Street executives who take some responsibility for wrecking the financial services industry and pushing the entire economy to the brink of, well, [readers - please insert your own hyperbole here].
Jimmy Cayne apologized for the collapse of Bear Stearns. He even admitted he had no clue what he was doing as Bear struggled through the the summer and fall of 2007 (at the time, however, he talked a very different game). Hell, Cayne has all but labeled Bear's independent directors a gaggle of yes men who did not dare interfere with management or corporate governance at Bear Stearns.
We've also read scores of interviews with senior managing directors at Lehman and Bear Stearns that give chapter and verse on mismanagement by senior officers like Dick Fuld (CEO of Lehman) and Jimmy Cayne.
Everyone seems to take it for granted that men like Dick Fuld, Stan O'Neil and Jimmy Cayne are responsible for the demise (or de facto demise) of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns.
And you know what? Everyone is right.
However, responsibility doesn't mean a whole lot unless it comes with consequences. The near total absence of meaningful consequences for extreme misconduct by Wall Street executives - the kind of consequences that may actually have a sliver of deterrent value - is, quite frankly, shocking.
Motivated by unquenchable thirst for wealth and power, many senior Wall Street executives, at minimum, committed acts of extreme recklessness that manifestly jeopardized the long range prospects of their companies. Did management intend to destroy their companies? No. But our society is about instant gratification, not long-term rewards.
A whole lot of executives were so blinded by greed that they refused to look very far beyond the tremendous windfalls they expected to receive at bonus time.
Of course, many shareholders suffered large losses when the investment banks went down. Victimized shareholders deserve to be made whole. After all, If Wall Street executives did not commit "fraud," then the federal securities laws and all other statutes that protect investors should be torn from all law books and fed into shredders.
Oh, we know all about D&O insurance and indemnification agreements. We don't care about that stuff. The top dogs on Wall Street killed their companies. So what if the D&O insurers pay? Who cares if Bank of America pays legal costs on behalf of Merrill Lynch executive officers? Who cares if JPM does the same on behalf of Bear Stearns management? Whatever. Just make defrauded shareholders whole.
Drag the men and women responsible for your losses into the muck. Sue them, expose them, take action. Make sure the history books blame the right individuals for the most severe threat to capitalism since the Great Depression.
It is time for accountability. Don't you think?
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