Here’s Why It’s Time to Ban Credit Default Swaps
Ask U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-CA, about credit default swaps and she’ll offer this warning: Ban them now or expect a reprise of the ongoing global financial crisis – which the derivative securities helped create.
If you want a more pro-capitalist confirmation of Waters’ view (and George Soros doesn’t count) try Warren Buffett’s sidekick Charles T. Munger, who has called the CDS prohibition the best solution, and said “it isn’t as though the economic world didn’t function quite well without it, and it isn’t as though what has happened has been so wonderfully desirable that we should logically want more of it.”
Waters has also pointed out – quite reasonably – that unless credit default swaps are banned outright, “the industry will find a way to loosen standards and widen exemptions for customized contracts and we will be right back to where we are today.”
When There’s No “Free” in Free Market
As a free-market enthusiast, my natural instinct is to resist such calls. But I have to recognize that, as we speak, we’re actually not operating in a free market. Key U.S. banks were bailed out by the U.S. government last fall, after which such financial institutions as Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM), Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE) and Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) have been permitted to carry on as though nothing bad ever happened.
Furthermore, a number of big players in the CDS market – most notably Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) – were bailed out through the rescue of busted insurer American International Group Inc.
But such as it is, Goldman Sachs is said to be heading for record profits in 2009, and its partners are expecting record bonuses. The investment-banking firm reported stellar second-quarter profits of $3.44 billion yesterday (Tuesday).
If U.S. taxpayers are going to be called on to subsidize the very banks that got us into this mess – just so these institutions can continue to carry on as if it was still 2007 – then another expensive and damaging financial crash is almost certainly in the making.
There are a number of product areas in which such a crash might occur, but for my money, credit default swaps top the list. That makes it crucial for us to at least rein in the derivative securities with the utmost urgency. And Congresswoman Waters makes an excellent point when she says that it may prove impossible to rein in credit default swaps without actually banning them altogether.
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