The Pecora Commission, as the Senate investigation came to be known, was a spectacular event in the darkest days of the Great Depression. It had a lasting impact on the public’s image of the financial world, and it helped make possible new laws and regulations aimed at preventing a Depression-size calamity from befalling the country again. What few anticipated was how fragile those laws and regulations would eventually prove to be—and how, in time, the tide would turn. The abuses highlighted by the Pecora Commission have clear parallels with the abuses that led to the financial meltdown of the past two years. Where the parallel breaks down is in comparison with the Pecora Commission itself. Congress has been remarkably decorous about investigating what went wrong. No Wall Street executives have been questioned for days at a time by a skilled interrogator. The Obama administration’s financial-reform bill—which would establish new procedures for seizing and dismantling failed banks, and also diminish the prospect of taxpayer-funded bailouts—faces strong, perhaps unanimous, Republican opposition. Even if the bill passes, it would represent a relatively modest response to the existing range of problems. In April, the Securities and Exchange Commission agreed (on a split vote) to file civil charges against Goldman Sachs, alleging that the firm defrauded some of its investors by selling them a portfolio of highly risky mortgage-related securities. The S.E.C. further charged that Goldman did not inform clients that the securities they were purchasing had been selected with the help of an investor who was expecting to profit from their decline in value. So far, the charges do not name any figures in Goldman’s senior management.You can read the rest here.
UPDATE: I've just learned that Michael Perino (St. John's University School of Law) has been working on a book-length treatment of the Pecora investigation, with a focus on how it changed American finance. The book, titled The Hellhound of Wall Street, will be out this fall.
Image credit: Ferdinand Pecora with Senators James Couzen and Duncan Fletcher, Jan. 11, 1934.
Hat tip: bookforum