Readers, stop sharpening your pitchforks for a moment because here, just in time for your year-end 401K reports to arrive, is a little story about four women who not so very long ago caused eyeballs to roll and brows to knit among the Wall Street and Washington Testosterone Teams, but who, if they had been listened to by the reigning Masters of the Universe, might have either prevented the economic Armageddon we are in … or at least caught it in time to prevent some its more pernicious collateral damage.
Who are these women? Two accomplished regulators and two prescient financial industry employees who saw that the toxic brew of sub-prime mortgages, derivatives and lack of government oversight was bubbling up the greatest destruction of wealth in the history of the world. That they were ignored and in some cases ridiculed by the very perpetrators of this global White Shoe Financial Ponzi Scheme makes this a tediously familiar tale to many women who have worked in proximity of the polyglass ceiling, especially on Wall Street.
And here’s the remarkable news: some of the Big Boyz who ignored these women? They’re part of the new Obama financial team.
Horsewoman #1: Brooksley Born, chair of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1996-99, a Federal agency that regulates commodity options and futures trading
What she said: Ten years before the collapse in the derivatives market became front-page news, and five years before Warren Buffett famously called them “weapons of financial mass destruction,” Brooksley Born warned in Congressional testimony that these complex, opaque and unregulated financial instruments could “threaten our regulated markets or, indeed, our economy, without any federal agency knowing about it.” She wanted her commission to provide governmental oversight of the derivatives market.
Who tried to screw her: Claiming that she did not understand the markets, a triumvirate made up of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, then-Treasury Secretary (and current controversial Citibank Director) Robert Rubin and his deputy and new Obama appointee Lawrence Summers (he late of the Harvard University dust-up where he claimed that women were intrinsically deficient in math) prevailed upon all who would listen to prevent Born’s agency from regulating the derivatives market. In their recent story on the Alan Greenspan legacy, The New York Times recounts the measures these three went to circumvent a woman who, if she had been listened to, could have prevented much of the current financial collapse.
The result: Derivatives remained unregulated, and Born left the CFTC in 1999. In the fall of 2007, the worst financial tsunami since the 1930s began to roil both Wall Street and Main Street, with derivatives based on now-failed sub-prime mortgages at its very core.
Quote to set your teeth on edge: “Brooksley was this woman who was not playing tennis with these guys and not having lunch with these guys. There was a little bit of the feeling that this woman was not of Wall Street.” —Michael Greenberger, a senior director at the Commission to The New York Times.