Big Banks, Big Regulators and Chutzpah

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 08 April 2011

Chutzpah derives from the Hebrew word u meaning "insolence", "audacity", and "impertinence." In Hebrew, chutzpah is used indignantly, to describe someone who has overstepped the boundaries of accepted behavior with no shame.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of a word I heard often when I was growing up in Brooklyn, Chutzpah. Working as a consumer advocate in Washington, D.C., you sometimes become immune to the incredible audacity of banks, their high powered lobbyists and the regulators and legislators that coddle them. Nonetheless, during these past few weeks, even I have been amazed and appalled by the level of gall demonstrated by the folks who helped break our economy.
First, there was the big bank “Chicken Little” reaction to the opening settlement sheet offer by state Attorneys General: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/04/lawmakers-demand-big-mone_n_831693.html. Can you imagine the nerve of the AGs trying to hold banks accountable and pay for the damage they’ve done to homeowners because of their irresponsible and fraudulent behavior?
Then there’s Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase’s reaction to the notion that his bank should allow homeowners to have a loan modification that actually reflects the value of the home they are living in:  "Principal writedowns for people who couldn't pay their mortgages? Yeah, that's off the table,"  http://www.americanbanker.com/issues/176_63/servicer-settlement-1035275-1.html. Of course, Mr. Dimon conveniently forgets about all of his companies’ terrible lending behavior that has helped leave far too many Americans with little equity in their homes and too little ability to make their mortgage payments. http://www.nedap.org/comment_letters/Chase_Fed_Comments.pdf. But I guess that’s something Mr. Dimon doesn’t worry about:  http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2011/02/18/jamie-dimon-bonus-king/
Finally, there’s our economy’s own, Nero, Alan Greenspan, who has the audacity to complain about the regulatory burdens that the Dodd-Frank law places on financial services institutions. Besides having the unbridled chutzpah to criticize the effort to clean up the mess that he helped create, I’m not sure why anyone should ever again trust anything Alan Greenspan says about the financial services marketplace: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/30/greenspans-derivatives-co_n_842766.html
I’m not sure what we can do about this recent outbreak of the over the top chutzpah. I guess the best we can do is not let them get away with it. Just because the banks and Mr. Dimon and Mr. Greenspan suffer from an incredible case of amnesia, doesn’t mean the rest of us should trust what they say or let them forget all the damage they’ve truly done.