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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

December 6, 2011 at 10:00 AM

MF Global and the ongoing hustle on Wall Street

The collapse of MF Global is a microcosm of much that remains wrong not only with the financial system but with the economy. The firm was a derivatives broker, and under the leadership of Jon Corzine placed a huge bet on the direction of European sovereign debt. As the Wall Street Journal reported today, the firm’s chief risk officer “raised serious concerns several times last year to directors at the securities firm about the growing bet,” which went from $1.5 billion in late 2010 to $6.3 billion before MF Global filed for bankruptcy protection at the end of October. His warnings were ignored by Corzine.

Companies such as MF Global do nothing to create an economy that actually produces useful things. They are the antithesis of, say, Steve Jobs’ Apple Computer. And yet they draw probably the lion’s share of capital on Wall Street because they promise wealthy investors much larger and quicker returns than boring, old-fashioned investment banking or venture capital. If the bets pay off, the profits go back into the casino instead of, say, being lent to enterprises that would actually create jobs. Their product, derivatives, usually “derive” their value from nothing real.

Corzine was a former chief of Goldman Sachs, but also was a former governor of New Jersey and U.S. senator. Critics have raised questions about whether Corzine used his connections and power as a former senator to intimidate regulators. The dreaded ratings agencies, which are doing their best to undermine Europe right now, were also nowhere to be found as MF headed to the cliff.

Corzine is a good liberal. To paraphrase candidate Obama, I don’t see a red America or a blue America, I see a green America: Feral greed for money by the elites whatever their nominal political affiliations. Corzine has been called before a House committee on the mess. But where is Eric Holder, the attorney general? Where is the high-level Justice Department investigation?

Once again, somebody rich and well-connected is going to get away with it. And people wonder about the anger that animates the Occupy movement. Meanwhile, the casino mentality and raft of dodgy “innovations” that brought on the Great Recession continue.

Monday’s poll showed an overwhelming number of Machinists ready to vote for the new contract with Boeing.

And Don’t Miss: American plutocracy || Felix Salmon/Reuters

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Ratings agencies

Find new ways to cause mischief

Just tell them: “Rate this!”

Comments | More in Banking

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