By Mick Krever, CNN
Just as the world struggles to emerge from a deep financial hole, the former top cop of the U.S.’s bank bailout says that a new crash is inevitable.
He is Neil Barofsky, and from the end of 2008 to 2011 he was tasked with ensuring that there was no abuse of the government’s bank bailout, or “Troubled Asset Relief Program” (TARP).
The idea that the U.S. has had any meaningful regulatory reform, Barofsky told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “is a fiction.” “All those bad incentives that flow from the implicit guarantee that the government will bail [the banks] out again are in place or made more solid,” he said.
Barofsky’s best-selling book, now out in paperback, is “Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street.”
Banks are much larger than they were before the crash, he writes, and no matter how much politicians on both sides of the aisle say no more bailouts, there is an implicit understanding by Wall Street that should another crisis strike, the government will be there to prop up the banks.
And that “understanding” is all that it needed, because investors see companies that will have any losses covered by a government bailout.
But the way that the bailout was administered, Barofsky said, “was the ultimate betrayal.”
“It was supposed to help four million people stay in their homes,” he said. “Every opportunity that they had they chose the interest of the largest banks and left everyone else behind.”
Considering Barofsky himself worked in government, policing the bailout, it is not unreasonable to ask why he himself was unable to avoid the problem.
He writes that though they had success in uncovering fraud and abuse, there was simply too much political opposition to wholesale change.
Congress created Barofsky’s job – Special Inspector General for TARP – when it approved the bank bailout, over the objections of the White House and the Treasury Department.
Barofsky’s job was to be a policeman, but when it came to the big issues of how the banks were using the bailout money and what rules they had to follow, he was treated as an empty suit.
Before moving to Washington, Barofsky was a little-known federal narcotics prosecutor in New York. The two jobs had more in common than you might think.
He calls it “the bullet or the bribe.”
“I was told by a very senior treasury official that I was going to do real harm to myself and my family because of my harsh tone towards Washington and the Obama Administration, as well as my criticism towards the banks,” Barofsky said. “That was the bullet. Then the bribe came as, well, if I softened my tone, was a little bit more upbeat, then all those things could happen for me, including maybe … a federal appointment of a judgeship, which for a lawyer is a really big deal.”
At the time, he joked that it sounded suspiciously similar to the ultimatums that drug kingpin Pablo Escobar used to make with Colombian police.
The deal, Barofsky said, was “either you’re going to do my bidding and take this giant bag of pesos, or you’re going to get a bullet in your head.”
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