By Bernie Sanders | Reader Supported News
November 8 2011
As a result of the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street, the American people have experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs, homes, life savings, and ability to send their kids to college. Small businesses have been unable to get the credit they need to expand their businesses, and credit is still extremely tight. Wages as a share of national income are now at the lowest level since the Great Depression, and the number of Americans living in poverty is at an all-time high.
Meanwhile, when small-business owners were being turned down for loans at private banks and millions of Americans were being kicked out of their homes, the Federal Reserve provided the largest taxpayer-financed bailout in the history of the world to Wall Street and too-big-to-fail institutions, with virtually no strings attached.
Over two years ago, I asked Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, a few simple questions that I thought the American people had a right to know: Who got money through the Fed bailout? How much did they receive? What were the terms of this assistance?
Incredibly, the chairman of the Fed refused to answer these fundamental questions about how trillions of taxpayer dollars were being spent.
The American people are finally getting answers to these questions thanks to an amendment I included in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill which required the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit and investigate conflicts of interest at the Fed. Those answers raise grave questions about the Federal Reserve and how it operates — and whose interests it serves.
As a result of these GAO reports, we learned that the Federal Reserve provided a jaw-dropping $16 trillion in total financial assistance to every major financial institution in the country as well as a number of corporations, wealthy individuals and central banks throughout the world.
The GAO also revealed that many of the people who serve as directors of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks come from the exact same financial institutions that the Fed is in charge of regulating. Further, the GAO found that at least 18 current and former Fed board members were affiliated with banks and companies that received emergency loans from the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis. In other words, the people “regulating” the banks were the exact same people who were being “regulated.” Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse!
The emergency response from the Fed appears to have created two systems of government in America: one for Wall Street, and another for everyone else. While the rich and powerful were “too big to fail” and were given an endless supply of cheap credit, ordinary Americans, by the tens of millions, were allowed to fail. They lost their homes. They lost their jobs. They lost their life savings. And, they lost their hope for the future. This is not what American democracy is supposed to look like. It is time for change at the Fed – real change.
Among the GAO’s key findings is that the Fed lacks a comprehensive system to deal with conflicts of interest, despite the serious potential for abuse. In fact, according to the GAO, the Fed actually provided conflict of interest waivers to employees and private contractors so they could keep investments in the same financial institutions and corporations that were given emergency loans.