In a recent Nation cover story, William Greider decried the lack of attention being paid by the media to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) charged with investigating the causes of the financial meltdown.
“The press has moved on. Financial crisis was last year’s story,” he wrote. But “how can Washington reform the financial system when we still don’t know what happened?”
On Friday, FCIC Chairman Phil Angelides was in DC to deliver a keynote address at a New America Foundation conference on financial reforms, jobs, housing and the dollar. Economists, policy-makers, activists and some press were in attendance, but coverage was once again scant, even though there are encouraging signs that the commission is now ready to kick into high gear.
Angelides told the audience that the ten-member bipartisan Commission will “examine the causes of the financial crisis, writing the official history of what brought our financial and economic system to its knees.” Throughout next week the FCIC will announce senior staff positions. Expect hearings “all throughout next year,” and subpoena power to be used to compel testimony and access documents when necessary. Where criminal conduct is suspected, referrals will be made to the Department of Justice or appropriate state attorney general.
“This accounting is desperately needed,” said Angelides. “The fact is that late in 1929, people were throwing themselves out of windows on Wall Street. This year they’re lining up for bonuses. There has been no serious self-examination on Wall Street of what has occurred and what should be in the future.”
The hope of progressives is that the FCIC will meet the high bar set by the 1930s Pecora Commission, whose investigation exposed Wall Street corruption and helped galvanize public support for New Deal reforms like the Glass-Steagall Act, the repeal of which is considered a contributor to the financial collapse. Angelides spoke of Pecora’s work serving as a model for this Commission.
“As we begin our work we take inspiration from what Pecora did because it was plain and simple,” he said. “It was an investigation that revealed real institutions and real practices carried out by real people. [Ferdinand Pecora] marched in National City Bank, he marched in JP Morgan, he marched in Chase Manhattan, he marched in the New York Stock Exchange. And people saw a set of manipulations that they vowed they would not see again and for decades we had a steady-state financial system–a balance of both innovation and regulation.”