The Inquisition Convenes in Washington

January 12, 2010, 6:56 PM UTC



Tomorrow in Washington, the new Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, gets together to hold a perp walk for the finance industry. You know the drill.  Lawmakers gather after the crime has been committed, the body taken away and autopsied, the scene scrubbed and everybody has basically returned to normal. Only then is the inquisition mounted. The usual suspects are rounded up and made to stand before the tribunal, their pictures taken while they take the oath, all due pomp and ceremony observed.  Then the fun starts. Fingers are wagged in chastened or truculent faces. Outrage is aired, each inquisitor topping the other in the size and ferocity of his dudgeon. Soundbites are offered in hopes of wider coverage. Then everybody goes home.

There are many excellent questions that the Commission should ask Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase), John Mack (Morgan Stanley) and any other nabobs unfortunate enough to be called before the tribunal tomorrow. Many are laid out today by Andrew Ross Sorkin in his DealBook Blog, and excellent questions those are indeed. I have some others that might be asked, if anybody is listening:

  • Mr. Blankfein, what’s your bonus this year? And how much of it would you have been willing to give to the Treasury in exchange for getting out of today’s hearing?
  • Mr. Dimon, can you tell us how you manage to get so much good personal press, while others in the business are constantly teased and goaded? Do you think it may be because you’re cuter than any other major financial figure?
  • For the group: When do you think this kind of annoying scrutiny will be over and you can all get back to business?
  • For the group: What kind of regulation would you find tolerable? We don’t want to hurt your feelings, since many of us look forward to joining your firms after we leave the public sector. I guess that’s not really a question. 
  • What hotels do you like to stay at when you’re in Washington?
  • Why do you think it took those of us in Washington so long to notice that the entire financial underpinning of our economy was reliant on bad loans and inflated real estate prices?
  • (For Democrats:) How do you think the failed policies of the Reagan and Bush years created this terrible crisis?
  • (For Republicans:) How do you think the failed policies of Bill Clinton created this terrible crisis?
  • What investments look good in 2010? Like, what are you guys putting your money into right now?
  • What’s in YOUR wallet?
  • Have you no shame?

I only offer the last one because it tends to be picked up on the cable news channels afterwards. They love it. Congressman leans forward and points his finger at the miscreant in the dock. “Have you no shame?!” he thunders. There’s no way to answer that. Look at the options:

1. Yes, I have shame.

2. No, I don’t.

Either way, you lose. And then you go back to New York.