I don’t agree with all of her recommendations — I think she shows a little too much fondness for regulation, for instance — but I agree with Sheila Bair on one of the primary causes of our current financial turmoil and the inability of the political class to address it: what she calls “short-termism.” She writes:
The nation is still struggling with the effects of the most serious financial crisis and economic downturn since the Great Depression. But Wall Street seems all too ready to return to the same untenable business practices that brought it to its knees less than three years ago…Too many industry leaders, as well as some government officials, compare the crisis to a 100-year flood. “Who, us?” they say. “We didn’t do anything wrong. Nobody saw this coming.”
The truth is, some of us did see this coming. We tried to stop the excessive risk-taking that was fueling the housing bubble and turning our financial markets into gambling parlors. But we were impeded by the culture of short-termism that dominates our society. Our financial markets remain too focused on quick profits, and our political process is driven by a two-year election cycle and its relentless demands for fundraising.
I’ve had a unique vantage point during my five-year term as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., from the early failure of IndyMac Bank to the implementation of reforms designed to ensure that no conglomerate ever again is deemed “too big to fail.”Now that I’m stepping down, I want to sound the alarm again. The common thread running through all the causes of our economic tumult is a pervasive and persistent insistence on favoring the short term over the long term, impulse over patience. We overvalue the quick return on investment and unduly discount the long-term consequences of that decision-making.
Our decades-long infatuation with financing our spending through ever-growing debt, in the private and public sector alike, is the ultimate manifestation of short-term thinking. And that thinking, particularly in business and in government, is actually getting worse, not better, as we look for solutions to put our economy on a sounder footing.
Bair is one of the few people who came out of the financial crisis smelling like roses. It’s worth hearing her thoughts. Read the piece in full.