Two Years after the Libor Scandal, Banks Get Token Fines for Rigging Global Foreign Exchange Rates

Two years after the major banks were caught rigging the world’s most important interest rate, the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor), six big banks have agreed to pay more than $4 billion in fines to international financial regulators for manipulating the multitrillion-dollar foreign exchange market.

The six banks—JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC—agreed to pay a total of $4.3 billion to the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the British Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and the Swiss financial regulator Finma.

The extent of the manipulation is enormous. The foreign exchange market accounts for $5.3 trillion in transactions every day—more than 20 times the size of the global stock and bond markets.

The total amount of the fines is nearly as large as the earlier Libor settlements, in which major banks paid over $6 billion. The US Justice Department is expected to announce an additional settlement related to the foreign exchange case.

The deal is the latest in a series of multibillion-dollar settlements between major banks and US and international regulators. These agreements settled charges of money laundering, tax evasion, the fraudulent sale of toxic mortgage-backed securities, collusion in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the concealment of derivatives losses, the illegal foreclosure of homes, and the manipulation of Libor.

In each of these settlements, the pattern is the same. The banks involved pay a fee, amounting to a relatively small portion of their annual earnings. In exchange, the government regulators drop their charges and wind up their investigations. Neither the top executives nor the banks themselves face criminal charges.

The deals are worked out in behind-the-scenes negotiations between the regulators and the banks, allowing the corporate criminals to get off scot-free and continue their illegal and socially destructive activities. The fines are looked upon by the banks as a cost of doing business, reminiscent of the bribes routinely paid by mafia dons to the political authorities.

More often than not, top personnel at the regulatory agencies are rewarded for their efforts to shield the banks by landing lucrative jobs at the same banks they were supposedly policing.

Several things emerge from the string of such settlements in the aftermath of the 2008 crash of the world financial system. First, phrases such as “free market” and “open markets” so beloved of capitalists and their apologists are lies.

The global financial markets are massively manipulated by gigantic banks and financial institutions that are driven by the insatiable greed of their top executives and major shareholders. The lives of countless individuals are shattered by the economic fallout from the conspiracies and criminal actions of this layer of financial parasites.

Secondly, governments, regulators and courts around the world are in the pocket of the global financial elite. As retiring US Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress several years ago, the US government considers major Wall Street banks to be too big to prosecute—i.e., to be above the law.

Finally, the scale and pervasiveness of illegal and fraudulent practices demonstrate that the criminality is rooted in the capitalist system itself. Capitalist governments fear that if they were to take effective action to put an end to any one of these practices, the entire financial edifice would collapse. …

In a sense he’s right, but I think he needs to be more specific in his critique.  Capitalism at its core after all, is just voluntary economic transactions between individual people.   The problem arises from corporate capitalism, which unfortunately is a “naturally” occurring consequence of large numbers such individual transactions evolving over time.  The problem is spontaneous self-organization in both its economic and political senses.   Immortal, politically involved corporations tend to take on the qualities of gods.  While they are born of voluntary acts by individuals, they tend to become coercive for the same reason that governments tend to become coercive.  When large numbers of people participate in the same socio/economic processes, access to or even awareness of alternatives tends  to be  suppressed and narrowed without limit.  This is why the separation of powers in the US constitution was so important.   The hurdles it presented to self-organization (i.e. corruption) behind the scenes delayed a totalitarian takeover for many years.

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