WaPo’s Pearlstein Sticks It to Wall Street

But good

Steven Pearlstein has an excellent column today ripping Wall Street for still not getting it. He leads with six columns dripping with contempt for the “Titans of Finance” acting like “spoiled, petulant children.”

These guys won’t be happy until the government agrees to relieve them of every last one of their lousy loans and investments at inflated prices, recapitalize every major bank and brokerage and insurance company on sweetheart terms and restore them to the glory days, so they can once again earn inflated profits and obscene pay packages by screwing over their customers and their shareholders.

For the Wall Street wise guys, bailout politics is just another game to be played, another market to be manipulated, another set of risks to be arbitraged.

Righteous indignation! More, please.

The rest of the column is great, too. Pearlstein profiles a community bank called Citizens South in Gastonia, North Carolina, that’s a model for what banking should be. It didn’t make crazy loans during the bubble and so its rate of non-performance is less than 0.5 percent. Its CEO makes less than $500,000. And he has found a plan, “ingenious” in Pearlstein’s words, to use the government TARP money.

And that got Price to thinking: What if Citizens were to use its federal bailout money to offer below-market mortgage rates with no closing costs to consumers who would buy a house, or a house lot, from builders and developers who had borrowed money from Citizens?…

The builders and developers win by having a tool to help move their unsold inventory. The consumer wins by getting a cut-rate loan. And Citizens wins because it lowers the risk that it will have to write off even more of its commercial loans while taking a modest step to help stimulate the local economy.

And Pearlstein’s kicker is a swift, well, kick in the pants to the Wall Street honchos who’ll be on the hot seat today in Congress:

So here’s a question the House Financial Services Committee might put to the Titans of Finance: How is it that Kim Price, a community banker with an undergraduate degree from Appalachian State University, a tiny executive staff and a pay package that you would consider insulting, somehow managed to come up with a more creative use for his government bailout money than any of you?

Right. And the big bankers moan about the compensation caps that will keep them from hanging on to their “talent”—you know, the same folks who ruined their companies and wrecked the economy.

This is just a superbly reported and written business column—with feeling!

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.