July 2 (Bloomberg) — Lord knows we’ve had more than enough scandals ginned up by Wall Street over the years, and the message that banking executives proclaim after each is: “Don’t worry, we’ve learned that lesson, and it will never happen again.”
Which is how we got to the recent spectacle of Jamie Dimon, the chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., testifying twice before Congress that although the bank’s chief investment office was taking huge proprietary risks with some $350 billion of its depositors money — and lost $3 billion (and counting) by making a bunch of risky bets on an obscure, thinly traded derivatives contract — everything is now fine and dandy because the unjustifiable gambling has been stopped dead in its tracks.
We were, of course, told pretty much the same thing after the collapse of the junk-bond market in the 1980s, the collapse of the Internet initial-public-offering market in the 1990s, the collapse of the telecom debt market in the early 2000s, not to mention the scandals over IPO spinning and laddering and the ones involving the trading of favorable corporate research for investment-banking fees.
We are told repeatedly that when Wall Street’s deeply flawed incentive system leads to one bad outcome after another, year after year, it will never happen again. Yet it does. And you can add this vital business to the list: The way state and local government officials hire Wall Street firms to raise the billions of dollars their municipalities need to build schools, hospitals, airports and sewers, and provide other essential services.