Economy | Tue Jun 30, 2009 1:22pm IST

COLUMN - The tough questions after Madoff: Matthew Goldstein

-- Matthew Goldstein is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own --

By Matthew Goldstein

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Even as Ponzi king Bernard Madoff goes away to prison for the rest of his life and then some, there are still so many unanswered questions -- both big and fundamental.

Were Madoff's sons involved? What did his wife Ruth know? Were the operators of the giant feeder funds that sucked in tens of billions of dollars in investor money in on the charade?

Those questions, though important, ultimately pale when compared with the bigger ones that remain about the root causes of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Indeed, for all the misery Madoff and his Ponzi brethren have caused, none of those scam artists were the cause of the crisis that brought the financial system to the brink. If anything, it was the financial crisis that helped flush out Madoff and his scurrilous ilk, as many investors rushed for the exits at the same time.

So that's why Congress needs to act quickly to get up and running a bipartisan commission to study the underlying causes of the financial crisis. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi likens this new 10-member panel to the Pecora Commission, the famous Depression-era investigative committee that led to passage of Glass-Steagall -- the 1933 law that drove a wall between commercial and investment banking.

The 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall contributed mightily to the current crisis by opening the door to an anything-goes mentality on Wall Street and allowing far too many banks to become too big to fail.

This new commission, armed with the power to subpoena witnesses and documents, is meant to investigate all aspects of the crisis, including regulatory lapses, Wall Street excesses and deceptive behavior by lenders and securities traders.

A first order of business for the commission should be looking at the Federal Reserve's dereliction of duty for missing the warning signs of trouble. Congress can't consider acting on the Obama administration's proposal to upgrade the Fed's status to supreme financial regulator before there's a full accounting of its missteps.

But there are already worrying signs that this commission will lack the political nerve to tackle the tough issues, let alone ask the right questions.

Reuters reported last week (link.reuters.com/kus87c) that some of the people being considered for the commission include many former Congressmen, governors and familiar talking heads from Washington think tanks. Let's hope that will not be the case because the financial system can't truly be fixed until there's a candid assessment of who let things get so out of control.

Sure, put some wise political statesmen on the commission. But also allow room for some longtime Wall Street critics, derivatives traders and hedge fund managers -- the kind of people who know the system from the inside out.

Maybe, even include one or two people who were sharp enough to stay away from Bernie Madoff.

(For more news on Reuters Money click in.reuters.com/money)

Top India News

Reuters Showcase

Auto Sector

Auto Sector

Ford aims to triple exports from India with $1 billion plant  Full Article 

Micromax Stake

Micromax Stake

SoftBank-led group in talks to buy stake in Micromax - sources  Full Article 

Airwaves Auction

Airwaves Auction

Top three mobile operators spend $13.6 bln in airwaves auction  Full Article 

Insurance Sector

Insurance Sector

Australia's IAG to up stake in joint venture with SBI  Full Article 

Accenture Results

Accenture Results

Accenture raises revenue growth forecast for second time  Full Article 

GAIL's Plans

GAIL's Plans

GAIL seeking 7 LNG cargoes from Oct. 2015-Dec. 2016 - tender document.  Full Article 

Eyeing Pininfarina

Eyeing Pininfarina

Pininfarina confirms Mahindra interest, says no deal yet  Full Article 

SH Kelkar IPO

SH Kelkar IPO

SH Kelkar files prospectus for IPO, seen at around $100 mln  Full Article 

Australia Beat India

Australia Beat India

Smith shines as Australia down India to reach final  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage 

X